Panel refuses to act on tower appeal


Arguing that the issue was outside their authority, members of the county Planning and Zoning Commission took no action yesterday on an appeal of a telecommunications tower proposed on conservation land just outside Sykesville town limits.

"The planning commission is faced with ruling on the site plan," said Commissioner Robert Lennon after 90 minutes of testimony.

"The thrust of the action today is a rehash of the issues the Board of Zoning Appeals has decided. We don't have the legal authority to say the tower doesn't belong on this spot."

Commissioner Dennis Bowman said, "The appeal centers on Board of Zoning Appeals issues and not issues we are to deal with as a commission."

The town of Sykesville had appealed the commission's waiver of a fall zone requirement for the tower and the county's failure to give Sykesville a voice in site plan approval.

"We have to focus on the fall zone," said Commissioner David Duree, referring to the area in which a tower might land if it fell intact. "We have to go with existing regulations, but we have never before given an exception under those regulations."

Mr. Duree moved to rescind the fall zone waiver, which the commission had granted in August. His motion died for lack of a second.

The county planned a public hearing last night on proposed new tower regulations, including a requirement for a fall zone equal to the height of the tower. That legislation would not affect the Sykesville tower.

Cindy Hitt, town attorney, said Sykesville also based its appeal of the tower on nonconformity with the county master plan, safety concerns stemming from the waiver of the fall zone and the developer's failure to look at alternate sites.

The commission also heard testimony from residents who live near the tower site on Hollenberry Road.

"I have no reason to believe the commission listened to our

arguments," Kathy Blanco-Losada, whose property adjoins the site, said after the hearing. "These are officials elected to be fair and impartial to constituents. The points Sykesville raised were germane."

Clark Shaffer, attorney for West Shore Communications, the company that will build the 200-foot tower and lease space on it to several communications companies, called the appeals a delaying tactic.

"The characterization of our interests to block the tower is wrong," said Jeff Griffith, Ms. Blanco-Losada's attorney. "The fall zone infringes on private property and causes safety concerns."

During testimony, West Shore Vice President Mark Sapperstein offered an alternate plan, which would shorten the tower by about 30 feet and move it back on the property. The protesters had not seen that plan and would not comment on it.

Mr. Lennon suggested Mr. Sapperstein move the concept plan through the approval process, but the request was denied.

"I only want to help the applicant, so the call on it should be the applicant's," Mr. Lennon said.

The case will go back before the Board of Zoning Appeals at 9 a.m. on Oct. 26.

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