ANNAPOLIS – A 250-foot-tall communications tower overlooking a Frederick County residential development can remain standing, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled Thursday.
Writing for the state’s second highest court, Judge Glenn T. Harrel Jr. affirmed a lower court’s decision granting a zoning exemption to the tower’s owner, American PCS, L.P.
The company had sought the exemption to build the tower on land zoned both for agricultural use and — in a local long-term development plan — as a future office location, court briefs stated.
Local developer Richmarr Holly Hills Inc. had challenged the zoning exemption as incompatible with both the local zoning laws and with the New Market Regional Comprehensive Plan.
Reacting to the ruling, Rand Weinberg, an attorney for the developer, simply restated Richmarr’s position: “My client didn’t feel the special exemption was warranted.”
To Frederick County officials, however, the court’s decision not only settles the dispute over the tower, but upholds the power of local leaders to determine local land use policies.
The court’s main consideration was “which take precedence: the existing zoning or the comprehensive plan,” said county planner Michael C. Thompson. He said the court’s opinion leaves the answer to that question to local leaders.
County lawyer John S. Mathias concurred, saying the court declined to substitute its judgment for that of local planners.
The comprehensive plan is a guideline looking at long-term development and does not supersede zoning law, Mathias said. Zoning laws focus more narrowly on the short-term development and conservation needs of an area, he said.
The tower, located near Interstate Highway 70, serves as a relay point for portable phone, pagers, and other data transmission services. American leases the land from the American Veterans Association Frederick Post #2, according to court briefs.
The exemption was granted by the Frederick County Board of Appeals and affirmed by the county Circuit Court.
Exemptions to county zoning laws aren’t uncommon, Thompson said, adding that the Board of Appeals issues one or two every month. Decisions are based on the exemption’s compatibility with existing area. “We look at each case individually,” he said. In building the tower despite its then-undecided legal status, the company “proceeded at their own risk,” Thompson said. The risk paid off. -30-