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Tower foes file motion for delay


The attorney representing residents opposed to a telecommunications tower in Sykesville filed a motion in Carroll Circuit Court yesterday to stay construction on the site until an appeal is prepared.

"Our intent is to appeal," said Jeff Griffith, an attorney who represents Kathy Blanco-Losada and several neighbors of the tower site on Hollenberry Road. "The motion [would] prevent any additional construction until we file our appeal and it is litigated."

Construction of the 200-foot tower, which began last fall for three days, has not resumed since a Carroll judge ruled July 6 in favor of the contractor. Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. also lifted a stop-work order that the county imposed Oct. 31.

The appeal could take a year or longer, Mr. Griffith said.

"It could take on a dimension all its own if the parties are willing to hang in," he said.

Twenty days remain for the residents to appeal the Circuit Court decision to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

"The appeal is one of several options," Ms. Blanco-Losada said. "Maybe, if we keep picking up pebbles and throwing them, we will break the window."

Judge Burns ruled that West Shore Communications, a contract builder for Cellular One, had acquired "vested rights" to build the tower on conservation land just outside Sykesville.

"Judge Burns is a fair man," said Mr. Griffith, "but I disagree with him on points of law."

Although the judge said construction could resume immediately, Mark Sapperstein, West Shore vice president, said recently that he was unsure whether he would finish the project and risk having to tear down the tower if the residents were successful on appeal.

Carroll County and Sykesville are considering joining the residents' appeal.

"We are weighing our legal options and which way is the best to go," said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "I read the judge's decision, and I think he missed several major points."

The mayor questioned the validity of a building permit that was issued within 24 hours of a county Board of Zoning Appeals hearing on the tower.

"Nobody I know gets a permit before a written decision is available," said Mr. Herman, a self-employed building and restoration contractor.

County Commissioner Richard T. Yates said he would like to see the county appeal the decision but that he wants to confer with his colleagues before committing public money to the legal battle.

"I wish this had never happened," said Mr. Yates, who did not take office until six weeks after the building permit was issued. "The tower will be an awful monstrosity in a residential neighborhood. There is no hiding a 200-foot structure, and I am sorry for the folks who have to endure it."

Ms. Blanco-Losada, who has spent more than $10,000 of her own money fighting the tower through several appeals and hearings, said she is not ready to give up.

"Even if Judge Burns says the tower is legal, that doesn't make it right," she said. "Cellular One doesn't have to build on this site. It wants to."

Mr. Yates said that "money is driving" the cellular company's decision. "It is cheaper to put it there," he said. "If it were on commercial property, the company would pay a fee for everything it put on the tower."

The county rejected an offer of free space on the tower for an emergency communications antenna.

Ms. Blanco-Losada said she has organized a letter and phone campaign directed at the commissioners.

"We all need to tell them not to throw in the towel," she said.

She and about 15 neighbors have started a fund to pay the additional legal fees for the appeal.

She also is distributing posters bearing a photograph of a similar tower and a toll-free telephone number for the public relations office at Cellular One.

"Would you buy a house 90 feet from this?" the posters say under the photo.

Several of the site's neighbors live within the "fall zone," the area the tower would reach if it fell intact.

County legislation enacted nine months ago requires a fall zone equal to the height of the tower plus a 50-foot buffer zone.

"One elderly resident lives the closest, and her home is her only asset," said Ms. Blanco-Losada. "She won't be able to give it away once the tower is built. She doesn't have any other options, and Cellular One does."

The town government and Ms. Blanco-Losada also have appealed actions by the county Planning Commission to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

The board will hear their arguments July 26.

Ms. Blanco-Losada said she has little hope of success at that level.

"Our hope is to get more information on the record and maybe have the basis for a strong, viable appeal," she said. "The BZA decision is a foregone conclusion. The board has ruled against the residents every time."

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