Fate of telecommunications tower in judge's hands after 2-year battle


The future of a telecommunications tower near Sykesville rests with Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr., who heard arguments Friday on the controversial project.

Lawyers for West Shore Communications Inc., Cellular One, the county commissioners, the town of Sykesville and an area homeowner presented their arguments in the latest round in the nearly two-year battle over placement of the 200-foot structure.

The tower's opponents -- the commissioners, town officials and homeowner Kathy Blanco-Losada -- argued that the project is prohibited by a county ordinance, enacted two days after construction began, that specifically bans telecommunications towers in residential areas.

They also said county planning and zoning officials approved the project illegally.

"The Planning Commission's vote [to approve the project] can't even pass the smell test," said Jeff Griffith, Ms. Blanco-Losada's lawyer. He said West Shore acted in bad faith when it began building the tower.

Lawyers for West Shore and Cellular One contended that the tower project went through appropriate planning and zoning channels and that the ordinance does not apply to them #F because their project began before the ordinance was enacted.

Tower opponents have "posted a straw man with their good-faith, valid-building-permit argument," said West Shore lawyer Clark Shaffer. "I don't know what my client should have done. Should he have waited a week? Should he have waited a month? Should he have dropped his project altogether?"

The case was in Circuit Court as a result of the tower foes' appeal of an October 1994 decision by the county Board of Zoning Appeals, which upheld the county Planning Commission's approval of the tower.

The planners approved the tower -- to be built near Hollenberry Road about a mile outside Sykesville -- and did not require a "fall zone," the area in which the tower could land if it fell intact. It is an area equal to the height of the tower plus a 200-foot buffer.

Ms. Blanco-Losada, whose home could be destroyed if the tower fell, said Friday the issue is simple.

"Consistently, when someone like myself cries foul against a company like Cellular One, there is not a level playing field," Ms. ,, Blanco-Losada said. "There seems to be a lack of access for an ordinary citizen.

"I've been here 30 years. I've paid taxes here. These people don't live in Carroll County, and once their tower is built, they'll just sit back and make their money from it."

West Shore and Cellular One argue that they also want a level playing field, one on which an ordinance enacted after they believed their project was approved should not be applied retroactively.

"This is one of the most highly reviewed and highly controversial projects in Carroll County history," Mr. Shaffer said.

He said his client is being penalized unfairly by the ordinance.

The county commissioners said recently that they were against the tower because they have a duty to protect public safety.

The county has decided it will not attach any of its antennas for emergency communications to the tower if the judge allows it to be built. West Shore, which would build the structure, had offered the county free space.

Judge Burns said he would issue a written order.

He could rule that West Shore already was "vested" when the ordinance was enacted, which would pave the way for construction and almost certain appeals from opponents, or he could rule that West Shore jumped the gun when it began construction.

Ms. Blanco-Losada and the town of Sykesville also have appealed an earlier action on the tower taken by the county Planning Commission.

Ms. Blanco-Losada said the commission should have rescinded or reconsidered its vote to approve the site plan for the proposed tower and should have taken testimony from town officials at its Oct. 18 meeting.

A hearing on that appeal is scheduled Tuesday before the zoning board.

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