What goes up mustn't come down Appellate court's tower ruling points to need for comprehensive policy.

June 05, 1996

THE DECISION BY the Court of Special Appeals supporting construction of a telecommunications tower on residential property was a justified rebuke of Carroll County government's handling of the 2-year-old issue.

The 200-foot tower was already built near Sykesville, upheld by a lower court and a building permit issued by the county. Neighbors and the county commissioners agreed that the imposing structure should not be built. But the commissioners delayed in passing a ban and opened "a golden window of opportunity" (in the court's words) for the contractor to begin work and to validate its vested right in erecting the steel tower.

The ordinance belatedly enacted by the commissioners in October 1994 prohibits these towers on residential-zoned land. With more telecom towers abuilding all over the country, that's a proper precaution, especially since Carroll's lower land prices and relatively open spaces make it an attractive target for siting such facilities.

Indeed, another case involving permission for communications towers is now before the Carroll County Circuit Court.

A Baltimore radio station wants to raise six broadcast towers on farmland it bought near Sykesville. While the station was seeking a conditional use permit through the planning and zoning process last fall, the county commissioners adopted an ordinance restricting multiple-tower projects to industrial-zoned land.

Although the county Board of Zoning Appeals had already ruled in favor of the towers, the local law was enacted before final planning commission approval of the site plan. The permit was denied, and the radio station went to court.

As we have argued before, the planning commission and the commissioners must develop a comprehensive, foresighted and consistent policy regarding these telecom towers, whether for radio, TV or telephonic use. They should be limited to industrial or commercial properties, so as not to diminish the quality of residential neighborhoods. Tower siting policy should be developed before the next immediate case. Because once construction is started, as the state court observed, the county "may not now look wistfully down the road not chosen."

Pub Date: 6/05/96

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