Fate of cell tower hearing in hands of board

March 18, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

Fate of cell tower hearing in hands of board

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The Jefferson County Board of Zoning Appeals will decide Thursday whether to delay hearing the Harpers Ferry, W.Va., cellular tower case to give the two sides involved more time to reach a compromise.

Officials with U.S. Cellular and those opposed to the company's plans to build a tower next to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park want to delay Thursday's hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals to give them time to negotiate.

But last Friday, the Jefferson County Planning Commission filed a motion to prevent any delays in the hearing scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday.


"It's like we have an outside group saying 'Don't talk. Fight,'" said Scot Faulkner, president of the Friends of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

Planning Commission Director Paul Raco said he is not opposed to the two sides reaching a solution.

But he said the appeal filed by Cliffside Inn owner William Gavin alleges an error was made by the Planning Commission on Dec. 9 when it granted the permit to allow a cellular phone tower to be built on the property.

"I hope they still work it out. But we'll know (after Thursday's hearing) if the Planning Commission is applying the law right," Raco said.

"I'm hired to represent the Planning Commission's decision and diligently defend them. That's what I intend to do," Raco said.

The commission's Dec. 9 decision gave U.S. Cellular a permit to build a 260-foot-high tower in the middle of a Civil War battlefield.

The zoning appeals board was to hear the appeal in February, but did not have a quorum because one member was absent, another recused himself because he had been involved in litigation against a cellular phone tower in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and another had been in business with the previous owner of the site.

The board has five members, leaving only two present to hear the case. Three members were needed for a quorum.

Faulkner said both sides have been working well together to come up with a compromise.

He said U.S. Cellular needs more time to conduct signal studies at the water tower site on Bolivar Heights, above Harpers Ferry.

Both sides want to avoid a potentially hostile hearing that could hurt their efforts to reach a solution.

Faulkner said even if the commission's decision is upheld, U.S. Cellular would be blocked from building on the site because of federal regulations protecting historical sites.

"It's in the public interest to have a resolution that's amicable, not one that will strangle the courts for the next two years," Faulkner said.

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