By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer
A process that started in November, 2013 ended for AT&T at the Greene County Board of Supervisor Meeting on September 9th. Cell phone reception down Route 810 in western Greene County is spotty and AT&T had identified a location that happened to be in the view of the Mount Vernon United Methodist Church . In February the Planning Commission approved the site and the request proceeded on to the Board of Supervisors.
At the first Board of Supervisors meeting where AT&T presented their request, it was recommended to analyze an existing tower location south of Velocitel, Inc. owned by John and Barbara Hayes Revocable Trust – the proposed location. At the September 9th Board Meeting AT&T presented to the Board their analysis of the other tower being considered – one owned by Monticello Media – which is only 115 feet tall but it sits atop a mountain and therefore is, in total, taller than the location AT&T proposed with a tower of 199 feet. The increased height provides a significant increase in coverage of over double. However, the Monticello Media tower will not support the AT&T equipment and a new tower would have to be built on the site.
Below is the coverage map of the proposed site on the Hayes property.
Below is the coverage expected from a tower constructed near the Monticello Media existing tower, further south of the Hayes property.
AT&T’s attorney, Preston Lloyd, addressed the Board and told them that Greene County has clear rules – more so than other counties. He also explained to the Board that a neighbor near the Monticello Media site complained that they did not want a 200 foot tower close to them just like Mount Vernon United Methodist Church doesn’t want it near their location. Lloyd pointed out that if either of two conditions in the code is evident then the tower should be approved. The first is that Monticello Media tower can’t support AT&T’s equipment and therefore, AT&T would have to rebuild. Secondly, the cost to construct a similar tower at the Monticello Media site is more expensive than the site on the Hayes property. The intent is that the Board of Supervisors would not force the applicant to choose a more expensive alternative.
AT&T showed a comparison of construction on the Hayes site vs. the Monticello Media site – $275,000 vs. $520,000. The costs reflected that the site of the Monticello Media tower is on a hillside and therefore significantly more expensive. The grading of the site and roadways was $100,000 for the Monticello Media site vs. only $25,000 for the Hayes site. The Monticello Media site requires $30,000 for road improvement, creating a cutover and clearing of $50,000 each while there would be no cost for any of these factors at the Hayes property.
The meeting then turned to the discussion among the Board members. Since the public hearing had already occurred there we no comments from the public. Supervisor Davis Lamb (Ruckersville) stated that the Monticello Media site would provide significantly more coverage vs. the requested site. Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) noted that there is already a Special Use Permit for the Monticello Media site and therefore AT&T could use this tower without a new SUP. He also speculated that since the coverage is more than double, that AT&T’s revenue would significantly increase. Chairman Jim Frydl (Midway) reminded all that the ordinance does not use revenue as a basis for issuing the SUP, only the cost is considered. Supervisor Martin said he kept coming back to the Zoning Ordinance 21-2-1 which is to encourage a minimum number of cell towers and to increase the opportunity for joint use of towers.
AT&T’s attorney noted that Zoning Ordinance 21-2-8.5 states that if the cost for one site is more expensive than the other site, then the second site is presumed unreasonable. This is the case of the Monticello Media site vs. the site on the Hayes property.
Supervisor Frydl agreed that the cost factor has eliminated the Monticello Media site from consideration. Supervisor Eddie Deane (At Large) told AT&T that he appreciated their efforts and in meeting the county’s requirements. He expressed disappointment that the “filet mignon” or Monticello Media site would not work and that the “sirloin” alternative at the Hayes property was the other option. Deane stated he struggled with keeping the vista of Greene Co clear vs. providing 911 service down Dyke Road but felt that safety must take priority.
Supervisor Martin also expressed his appreciation to AT&T for their efforts and thanked them for an open process. In the end, he believes the county needs to take a long range view on cell coverage in the county and look for the best coverage vs. just keep adding tower after tower until you get around the mountains to the Albemarle County line. For that reason he is against the current SUP.
Chairman Frydl said that AT&T has been portrayed unfairly in this process and that they have followed the ordinance in detail and looked at existing sites per the BOS recommendation. However, AT&T has to look out for what is best for their business which may be different than what Greene County may want. Chairman Frydl struggled with the decision because the SUP will enhance cell service but it won’t minimize the number of cell towers in the long run. Supervisor Deane expressed concern that if AT&T’s request is denied they may leave the county and the fact that the county requested a comparison to another site actual caused them to shoot themselves in the foot. This is the reverse of the classic taking the bird in the hand over two in the bush
At this point, Dr. John Hayes – the owner of the site where AT&T wants to locate – stood to address the board. You could feel his frustration with the Board. While the normal process would not allow a speaker, Chairman Frydl allowed him to speak since he was the owner of the property. Hayes stated that AT&T did what the Board of Supervisors asked. Most of the land in the Dyke valley is in conservation which excludes constructing a cell tower and many of the remaining properties are too small for a cell tower fall requirement.
Supervisor David Cox said that this decision is the hardest he has faced while on the Board. He lives in the valley that is being impacted. His home has a view of a 600 foot tower when he looks up the mountain but from his front porch he has a clear view of the Blue Ridge Mountains that so many value. Topography is the problem in cell service but it is also what creates the magnificent views in Greene County. He said that he has been seriously injured several times and without cell service to call for EMS responders he might not be here. He felt that safety outweighs the aesthetics in this case and he was in favor of the SUP.
The motion was made to reject the Special Use Permit request and it passed on a 3-2 vote – denying the SUP at the Hayes site. The irony is that two supervisors – Cox and Deane who live in the western part of Greene Co – voted to allow the cell tower.
The Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Greene County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.
Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.