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Cell phone tower voted down

June 21, 2000|By SCOTT BUTKI

The Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals Wednesday night unanimously rejected a proposal to put a 190-foot telephone communications tower in Rohrersville.

About 75 people, including two state elected officials, attended a June 7 public hearing to express their opposition to the proposal by American Tower Corp. of Millersville, Md., to build a tower on Locust Grove Road near the Appalachian Trail.

Opponents presented a petition with 400 signatures to the board.

During deliberations Wednesday, Board of Zoning Appeals members said they agreed with an argument made by some of the opponents: American Tower did not prove it considered all other available sites.

Board members noted that at the public hearing, nobody spoke in favor of the proposal except the tower company.

A written decision will be issued within 30 days and the decision can be appealed to Washington County Circuit Court within 30 days of that time, Board Chairman Robert Veil said.

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At the meeting earlier this month, Patrick Welsh, a lawyer for American Tower, said the company would rent space on the tower to Dobson Cellular One and Nextel Communication.

Welsh attended Wednesday's meeting but said afterward he had no comment on the decision.

He said American Tower would consult with the cell phone companies and decide whether to appeal the board's decision. It will be at least a few weeks before that decision is made, he said.

Edgar F. Czarra Jr., a local resident who spoke against the tower at the last meeting, applauded the board's action.

"I am very pleased with the decision. They picked up on the salient points," he said.

Veil said American Tower's testimony that the tower is needed to provide adequate cell phone coverage has been disproved by people, including some board members, who have made cell phone calls while in the area the tower would serve.

Board members said had American Tower provided expert witnesses who said the tower was needed for public safety their decision would have been harder.

About 25 people attended Wednesday's meeting.

Veil and other Board of Zoning Appeals members said their decision was based partially on American Tower not rebutting some comments made by opponents at the public hearing, particularly regarding whether other sites were available.

Opponents suggested the company was only interested in sites that would involve constructing a tower and leasing space since that is how it makes money.

Welsh has said the proposed site at 4614 Locust Grove Road is the best available one the company found within the area that would improve coverage along the Md. 67 corridor.

Delegate Chris Shank, R-Washington, Sen. Donald Munson, R-Washington, the Harpers Ferry Conservancy's executive director and some local residents spoke against the tower proposal, saying it is both a visual blight and a bad site, being near both the trail and the South Mountain Battlefield.

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

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

During the meeting, board members said during the proposal's opposition was the largest public outcry against a tower the board has ever seen.

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