By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer
Back on November 20, 2013, AT&T came to the Greene County Planning commission requesting a special use permit to install a cell tower on Dyke Road. At the end of the hearing they asked for a deferral of their application in order to meet with the community near Dyke where they wanted to place the cell tower. The November Planning Commission meeting had eight speakers, all against the location of the cell tower on Route 810 in line with the view of the mountains from Mount Vernon United Methodist Church.
At the February 19th meeting of the Planning Commission a request for the special use permit by Velocitel, Inc. was made again /. Since there had already been public comments allowed at the first meeting, no public comments were allowed at the February 19th meeting. However, that didn’t keep the crowd from turning out, mostly against locating the cell tower in line with the view from the church. Twenty to twenty five handmade signs were held up around the meeting room in the Country Administration Building that was overflowing with Standing Room Only around the room.
Chairman Jay Willer announced that a meeting between Velocitel, Inc. and the community was held on January 23rd at the church as had been suggested at the first hearing. A letter to the Planning Commission summarizing the meeting from the church was enclosed in the packet the Commissioners received.
Bart Svoboda, Zoning Administrator/Planning Director, outlined the request and what new information was being provided. He indicated that a tower matrix showing the location of towers in Greene County and the increased coverage provided by the new cell tower per the coverage area in the northwest part of the county noted below in the second chart.
Svoboda also stated that the location was approximately 1,500 feet from Route 810. Svoboda continued that minimum distance of the setback requirement was twice the height of the cell tower, or 398 feet. Many of the parcels in the area would not provide enough size to comply with the 398 feet setback requirement.
AT&T was represented by Attorney Preston Lloyd . He stated that at the November meeting the Planning Commission asked that alternate sites be reviewed and that was done. He indicated that moving further up the hill would actually require more tree removal. The proposed location is actually 1,800 feet from the church. Alternative sites that were reviewed actually do not serve as many customers as the original site requested and many sites do not have the width necessary for the setback requirement. In his opinion, the site requested is the least obtrusive and provides the most coverage to users in the western part of Greene County. While no public comment was allowed during the hearing, Pastor Gordon Meariwether wrote a letter to the Greene County Record requesting that AT&T move their cell tower location out of the line of site of the church of the mountains to the west.
New Commission member John McCloskey asked if colocation of other providers would be allowed and was told that would be allowed. He then questioned why propagation maps were not provided for the other locations. Mr. Lloyd stated that one was prepared for the location requested. Mr. Lloyd was asked about a shorter tower, say 150 feet and Mr. Lloyd indicated that shorter towers would require more towers to get the same amount of coverage.
Chairman Willer asked Mr. Svoboda about the Scenic Highway designation and what impact a cell tower may have. Mr. Svoboda stated that VDOT along with the Commonwealth Transportation Board decide on the Scenic Highway designation. There are no specific qualifying criteria and that a cell tower should not prohibit Route 810 being designated a Scenic Highway.
Commissioner Schaff spoke in favor of the SUP, stating that school age children need access to the internet that the tower would provide. Commissioner McCloskey stated that he lives in the area and can get internet and cell phone service from a different carrier. Commissioner Morris stated that he attended the meeting at the church and spoke with a lot of residents and he supports the SUP after seeing the search ring other proposed sites have limitations. His final concern was one of safety and he had spoken to both the sheriff and the fire department and both are in favor of the placement of the tower to improve communication.
Commissioner McCloskey felt that AT&T had not gone far enough in their research of alternative sites and what is best for AT&T may not be best for Greene County. He didn’t feel that a sincere evaluation of alternative sites had been done. Chairman Willer also had concerns about the lack of effort by AT&T.
Commissioner Morris made a motion to approve the SUP request with color stipulations. McCloskey and Willer voted no while the other three commissioners vote to approve the SUP. As always, Special Use Permits are passed forward to the Board of Supervisors for final decision along with the Planning Commission recommendation.
Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.
The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you.