Opponents of six 350-foot radio towers proposed by an Owings Mills radio station won a reprieve yesterday when the Board of Zoning Appeals rescheduled a hearing for Oct. 23, giving neighbors three weeks to organize and hiborder.
Nicholas Mangione, the station's owner, plans to buy all but 5 of the 389 acres that Harold and Esther Mercer have farmed most of their lives. The towers, which would spread across 70 acres, are a conditional use for agricultural property, but Mr. Mangione must win approval from the zoning board. The sale of the property is contingent on that approval.
Before the hearing yesterday, the board heard a barrage of demands for postponement.
About 30 neighbors, who said the towers would obstruct their view of the surrounding countryside, asked to be heard.
William B. Dulany, the attorney for the Mercers, argued that the property was properly posted and the hearing was advertised the legally required 15 days before the scheduled date. The board notified owners of adjoining properties by letter.
"If they had asked ahead of time, we might have been agreeable," Mr. Dulany said. "We had engineers, real estate people and the property owners ready to testify. I'm not even sure that all of them can be here next time."
Robert Forshey Jr. of Hoods Mill Road said, "They had weeks and months to prepare. I have had a week and a half."
James Talley of Old Washington Road objected to the short time between notification letters and the hearing. "Postpone in order to let the democratic process take place and give us an opportunity to prepare," he said.
On the advice of County Attorney Isaac Menasche, the board granted a continuance to Oct. 23, the next available date.
"We will grant the continuance only for this time frame," said Charles Cull, board member. "There will be no relief a second time."
Bruce Greenberg, a Sykesville businessman and Gaither Road resident, called the continuance a victory for tower opponents.
"How often do boards postpone for citizens' concerns?" he asked. "The residents are highly motivated and will have good legal representation next time."
Mr. Menasche said continuances are given at the board's discretion and occur "with enough frequency so they are not a rarity."
The station had lined up witnesses who would address residents' concerns, Mr. Mangione said. He said he was surprised at what he called the board's unusual decision.
"They are asking for trouble with future cases," he said.
Residents plan to hire an attorney and consult with engineers.
"We have to develop a well-rounded case," said Michael Wheeler of Hoods Mill Road. "We have to bring together intelligent resources. They will have a lot of technical expertise."
The organization to fight the towers already is in place, he said.
"We massed 120 people to fight the gun range and we won," said Mr. Wheeler, referring to a successful fight South Carroll residents waged against a proposed outdoor shooting range at the county's Hood's Mill Landfill.
Mr. Forshey, who purchased his property from Mr. Mercer eight years ago, had a copy of the neighborhood covenants, which prevent "encumbrances of any kind without approval," but do not apply to the Mercer farm.
"The same man that asked us to live by covenants doesn't have to live by them," Mr. Forshey said.
Mr. Wheeler said he does not want to pit one side of the neighborhood against the other, but he has no choice.
"We don't want to see towers," he said.
Mr. Dulany and the Mercers met with neighbors last week to try to defuse opposition.
"Towers preserve the farmland and open spaces," Mr. Dulany said. "They also are an accepted use on agricultural land."
He said he lives within view of three radio towers owned by WTTR-AM.
"There was a great cry when they went up, but I never notice them anymore," he said.
The Mercers, who have retired from farming, plan to continue living in a house on 5 acres of the property. Esther Mercer said neighbors are more concerned with aesthetics of the towers than safety issues.
"Would people rather see house on top of house?" she asked. "We complied with the county regulations. Would we live here with our grandchildren, if we thought the towers were harmful?"