Tower controversy heard by zoning panel

June 07, 2000|By SCOTT BUTKI

About 75 people, including two state legislators, attended a Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting Wednesday night to register opposition to a proposal to erect a 190-foot telephone communications tower in Rohrersville.

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The board will issue a written decision within 30 days. The decision can be appealed to the Circuit Court within 30 days after it is issued, Board Chairman Robert Veil said.

Patrick Welsh, a lawyer for American Tower Corp. of Millersville, Md., said the tower is needed to provide adequate cell phone coverage in the region for users of Dobson Cellular One. Dobson and Nextel Communications Inc. want to rent space on the tower, he said.

The proposed location at 4614 Locust Grove Road near the Appalachian Trail is the best available site for improving the companies' coverage along the Md. 67 corridor, he said.


While the Rohrersville tower would be less than one mile from the Appalachian Trail, it would not be visible from the trail, Welsh said.

Sen. Donald Munson, R-Washington, the Harpers Ferry Conservancy and some local residents opposed the tower proposal, saying it would be a visual blight and a bad site, being near both the Appalachian Trail and South Mountain Battlefield Park.

Munson and others expressed concern about the number of cellular towers being built in Washington County and the towers' effect on property values.

"I urge, plead and beg you to refuse the American Tower proposal, hopefully unanimously," Munson said.

The meetings are usually held in the Washington County Commissioners meeting room at the County Administration Building. Because a high turnout was anticipated for Wednesday's meeting, it was held in a Washington County Circuit Courtroom. About 100 people attended the meeting.

At one point, Veil asked those opposed to the proposal to stand. About 75 people rose, including Munson and Del. Chris Shank, R-Washington.

Shank said he has heard no complaints about lack of cell phone coverage in the area but he has heard from many constituents opposed to the proposed "visual scar."

The state has spent $8 million on land preservation efforts near the tower, yet that work can be destroyed "with one fell swoop," Shank said.

The public interest of maintaining the environment and properties can't be outweighed by the desire of companies to provide seamless cell phone service, he said.

Edgar F. Czarra Jr., of 4310 Locust Grove Road, said the proposal would be an environment blight and described American Tower as "an absentee landlord."

Paul Rosa, executive director of the Harpers Ferry Conservancy, said there are sites that would better meet the cellular phone company's needs but those are not being pursued by American Tower because they are less profitable.

"There are a lot of ways to do this and this is not the way," he said.

The company's request for a special exception to put a tower on the property of Michelle Reilly was scheduled for discussion at the Washington County Board of Zoning Appeal's meeting last month. At the request of several parties, including the Harpers Ferry Conservancy and the Appalachian Trail Conference, the discussion was postponed.

American Tower received permission last fall to build two 195-foot telephone towers in the Cedar Ridge and Beaver Creek areas. Only one person spoke against those towers.

Until recently, free-standing towers were handled with permits and approval from the Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals was not required. The change was made to allow public input and feedback on proposed towers.

American Tower promises to remove any towers if it is not used for 12 months, Welsh said.

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