Tag Archives: cell towers

Fluvanna to Build Two 350 Foot Towers

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors gave the go-ahead to get into the tower business.The supervisors want staff to continue with plans to build two 350-foot towers for the new emergency radio project. The towers will help improve radio coverage and wouldn’t require leasing as many towers as the original plan.
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The county could also rent out space on the tower to recoup costs of the tower. It is estimated the county will spend $275,000 per tower to build plus land acquisition.
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One odd item is the county restricts telecommunication towers to less than 200 feet. In the agenda the staff report states, “with construction of new 350 feet towers and continuing to restrict commercial towers to under 200 feet, carriers will be drawn to the taller towers (with better coverage options) for co-leasing instead of applying to build their own. This option more likely ‘guarantees’ additional revenue for the county.”
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Supervisors tried to downplay this aspect because the towers are needed for public safety first and foremost. Supervisors took estimated ten year operational costs and when removing any rental income projected, building the two towers was still one of the better options. Over the life of the towers (estimated at 40 years), it would be even better.
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The problem with leasing commercial towers is the county would need so much space on a 195 feet tower that the county would sometimes lease an entire tower. It would completely shut out the market to being on those towers.  The 350 feet towers would give plenty of room for the emergency radio services and still leave room higher than 200 feet for commercial telecommunication providers.
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[Clarification 2/19 9:23 am The supervisors only gave a direction to staff to continue researching this option. Final approval will be necessary to build the towers, one near Lake Monticello and one on the old landfill.-NW]
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Also at the Feb. 17 meeting the supervisors approved a special use permit to allow a preschool at St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church. The permit is for a year round school of 150 students between ages 2 and 6 years old.
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Fluvanna Supervisor Tony O’Brien

“I think it’ll be a great addition,” said Tony O’Brien (Rivanna District) after no one spoke at the public hearing.

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Supervisors also approved a zoning change for property on Lake Monticello Road. Fluvanna Self Storage will develop the land in two phases for a remote storage facility and a third phase for commercial development along the road.
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Currently Fluvanna Self Storage is located over a mile down the road and has outgrown its space. Phase one in the new property is about 70 percent of the original facility.  “It is very similar in nature to our other facility,” said Carlos Burns, the applicant. He said the buildings will look the same but will be more earth toned.
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Burns estimates the first phase might take 15 to 20 years to develop. FSS has been in operation for 23 years.
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The new remote site backs into Lake Monticello housing. One amazing aspect is residents closest to the property have commended Burns for his work on minimizing impact of the development.  Even those that spoke against it weren’t passionately against it. The owner closest to the new facility, Steve Carney, said he hopes Burns continues to operate in good faith to minimize impact.
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“I don’t think I’ve seen anyone work together better than on this project,” Patricia Eager (Palmyra District) said about the communication between the applicant and nearby property owners.
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The next supervisors’ session will be on Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. for a work session with the School Board. Supervisors will then meet at 7 p.m. for the formal presentation of the School Board budget.

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bryan-rothamelThe Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Fluvanna BOS Approves 3 Communication Towers and Lafayette School

By. Bryan Rothamel, Field Officer

The Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors approved two applicants’ special use permits bringing three more cellular service towers and one school to the county.

The three cellular service towers is to fulfill a desire from the federal government to bring high speed internet and cellular phone service to rural areas. 52-Eighty, a cell tower construction company, wants to build three towers in the eastern portion of the county.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made the area eligible for a $1.9 million grant to a company who was willing to expand service to that portion of the county. FCC wants 176 miles covered by the money.

T-Mobile won the reverse bid to provide the service to the area. 52-Eighty was contracted to build the towers.

The three towers are all east of Route 15 starting at Bremo Bluff, near the power plant. Another will be placed near the James River, still in the Fork Union area. The third location, in Kents Store, will be on land the tower company will purchase.

Each tower is permitted to be up to 199 feet. Over 200 feet requires to be lit.

The tower company will work with Fluvanna if tower space is needed as part of the county’s E911 radio upgrades. Towers will also be able to have co-location capabilities for other cell phone companies to place antennas on the monopoles.

The three SUP applications by 52-Eighty were approved unanimously.

Supervisors also unanimously approved Lafayette School, to be located in the Zion Station Industrial Subdivision on Route 250.

The private school is for 24 students who do not succeed in a public school environment. The facility has three classrooms encompassing elementary, middle and high school.

The school combines special education and therapeutic intervention. Two instructors are in each classroom with availability for therapy sessions when needed.

Lafayette School currently is in Charlottesville on Fontaine Avenue. The new Fluvanna facility is limited to the 24 students number and normal weekday, working hours.

Supervisors did ask if the hours were too limiting and were willing to expand to weekend allowances but an official of the school said it was not necessary. There is a provision to have school Board of Directors meetings once a month after school hours.

In other action items, the board approved changing their work session schedule to have a 4 p.m. work session on the third Wednesday of the month, when necessary, prior to the regularly schedule 7 p.m. meeting.

Previously, supervisors had work sessions on the first Wednesday, after the 4 p.m. meeting.

Supervisors also approved an FY16 budget calendar that includes setting two tax rates. The first, in February, will be because of a possible reassessment. A county cannot raise taxes through a reassessment.

The second will allow supervisors to raise taxes, which is a most likely considering the county’s financial picture.

The next Board of Supervisors meeting is Oct. 1 at 4 p.m.

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bryan-rothamelThe Free Enterprise Forum’s coverage of Fluvanna County is provided by a grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® and by the support of readers like you.

Bryan Rothamel covers Fluvanna County for the Free Enterprise Forum

Greene Denies AT&T Cell Tower

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.

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Below is the coverage expected from a tower constructed near the Monticello Media existing tower, further south of the Hayes property.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

AT&T To Examine Possible Alternate Tower Location In Greene

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

An oft repeated real estate axiom is “location, location, location”.  The same could be said for most land use cases especially those involving wireless communication towers. 

Greene County has been engaged in such a conversation over the past few months.   At their first April meeting the Greene County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing regarding  Velocitel, Inc  and the John & Barbara Hayes Revocable Trust request for a Special Use Permit (SUP)  for a wireless facility in a valley near Route 810 in western Greene County.

810 cell tower locationThe location is what has caused this SUP  to be hotly contested, not the fact that a cell tower for that part of the county is needed. In fact, no one speaking at the meeting spoke against the need for a cell tower, but spoke against the specific location selected by AT&T.

AT&T’s attorney, Preston Lloyd, made a presentation to open the public hearing.  Mr. Lloyd explained that AT&T searched the area based on the County zoning requirements  to see where to locate the tower.

With wireless technology, line of site is the basis, therefore height is critical to maximize coverage. However, based on Greene’s zoning, the cell tower fall pattern must not cross to another property making a large lot a requirement. He further explained that Greene County stresses fewer cell towers as opposed to Albemarle County that stresses maximum height of only 10 feet above the tree line (resulting in more shorter towers).

Mr. Lloyd further explained that having the tower located at the bottom of the valley would minimize the need to cut a roadway to the tower. Finally, Mr. Lloyd explained that there were no other towers in the valley capable of colocation of their equipment (in their current condition).

The meeting was then opened to public comment. The majority of the comments were against the particular location since it was in the view shed of Peace Garden of the Mount Vernon United Methodist Church.

Perhaps one of the most informative speakers of the evening was Alan Williams, Chief Engineer of Monticello Media, who indicated that they were not contacted about the use of the tower for use by AT&T. He did admit that the current tower would not support the additional weight of the AT&T equipment but indicated that they would be willing to consider either beefing up the tower or build a new tower. In addition, the Monticello Media location is that it is higher than the AT&T sight by over 800 feet and therefore would provide more coverage.

Chairman Jim Frydl (Midway) asked Mr. Lloyd if he had any response to the public comments. He didn’t answer directly but explained that AT&T didn’t need to contact Monticello Media in order to analyze their tower by their own engineers to determine that the tower would not work.

The Board of Supervisors then made their comments. Supervisor Eddie Deane (At-Large) asked about coverage and location of other sites in Greene County. A tower was just installed on Tower Road within 3 miles of the proposed site. Mr. Deane asked what the impact on coverage will be once that tower is put into service? Coverage will be significantly increased per Mr. Lloyd. Supervisor Davis Lamb (Ruckersville) indicated that the tower on Tower Road is at a height of 1,500 feet which is over 800 feet above the proposed tower. Mr. Lloyd said that he did not have the coverage projected from this tower but could provide it.

Chairman Frydl clarified with Mr. Lloyd that a coverage map was not available from the Monticello Media tower because it is not structurally able to support the AT& T equipment.

Supervisor Bill Martin (Stanardsville) asked if AT&T had a second choice and was told no. Mr. Martin expressed concern over installing a new tower close to the Monticello Media tower. He asked if a coverage map from the Monticello Media could be generated? Mr. Lloyd restated that AT&T had not spoken to Monticello Media but would be willing to do so. But Mr. Lloyd stated that restarting the analysis would affect the timeline which he was under pressure to maintain. Mr. Martin indicated that he and the county have all the time needed – to do it right.

Mr. Deane stated that cell service for safety issues is most important. But leaving out Dyke and other areas in southwest Greene County was unacceptable. Deane further stated “Why should we settle for sirloin when we can have filet mignon”?

Mr. Martin then made a motion to defer the decision with the following provisions to define what would be needed to make the Monticello Media location usable and that the Greene BOS should seek a legal opinion on this issue. Chairman Frydl asked Mr. Lloyd when he could be ready to address the issues and they agreed on the May 13th meeting. The BOS agreed 5-0 to defer the request for the Special Use Permit.

Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization.

Photo Credit: NBC29

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.

Round Two: Cell Tower on Route 810 Approved by PC

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.

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Proposed Service Chart clip_image004

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.

Greene Planning Commission – Cell Tower vs. Rural Views?

By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer

Greene County Planning Commission’s November meeting was dominated by a wireless facilities application.  AT&T’s representative, Cheryl Taylor from Velocitel, Inc. requested a Special Use Permit (SUP 13-006)  to construct a cell tower in western rural Greene County.

Bart Svoboda explained that the requested location is off Route 810 near the town of Geer on the property of John and Barbara Hayes. The SUP is for a tower with a height of 199 feet, just below the 200 foot level that requires lighting be included. The proposed location is 40 feet into the woods and the proposal is for either a silver or brown pole. Below is an applicant generated photo representation from Route 810 as to what the appearance of the tower would be. Svoboda explained that the smaller picture in the lower left hand corner is the view from the road. The larger picture is a magnification of the same picture in order to show the tower.

clip_image002Taylor addressed the Planning Commission explaining their company (Velocitel, Inc) has been contracted by AT&T to find a location where coverage is currently missing (a radius of .5 mile is diameter). Currently Route 810 is not a scenic highway  although the process is underway for it to be considered one.

Comments from the public were adamant against the cell tower in the specific location proposed by Velocitel. Nine speakers commented on the SUP, all opposing the request for a variety of reasons. Several speakers, including Pastor Gordon Merryweather of the Mount Vernon United Methodist Church , spoke in opposition stating that the tower would be directly in the view from their church. He further explained that the church is constructing a meditation area that looks directly at the area where the tower is proposed and asked that the view be maintained as it is.

Beth Lane, whose house is in the lower right corner of the picture above, is not against improving cell reception in the area, but asked that other locations away from the neighborhood and church be looked at before a decision is made. Another speaker noted that Albemarle County approves shorter towers and that may help the issue. A final citizen proposed that the tower be located further up the mountain, therefore requiring less of the tower to be exposed in order to get the height being requested.

The Planning Commission discussed several options such as moving the tower up the mountain. This however would require a roadway to be cut out and a level pad be created which would be more visible. The option of having the tower shorter prohibits other cell providers from attaching to the tower and therefore may generate more request for towers from other providers and the need for more towers since a shorter tower provides a smaller range of service.

Chairman Jay Willer  suggested that Taylor meet with the church members and others that live in the Geer area to see if an agreement could be reached that would be satisfactory to both parties. With that agreement made, the Commission voted unanimously to defer the SUP until 2/19/14, leaving enough time for the two parties to meet and hopefully come to an agreement.

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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.

Waivers, Steep Slopes, Planning Commissions and the Supremes

FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL

By. Neil Williamson, President

A Supreme Court of Virginia decision created most interesting political theater at last night’s Albemarle County Planning Commission meeting; where the Commission voted to deny two applications while in the same motion recommending their approval.

Please let me explain.

Earlier this month the Virginia Supreme Court handed down a ruling dismissing the ability of Planning Commissions to permit waivers.   The Albemarle County case revolved around a critical slopes waiver granted to the defendant to construct a cellular transmission tower.

In a memo to the Albemarle County Planning Commission, Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner explained the issues in the Kent Sinclair c. New Singular Wireless case:

Mr. Sinclair alleged and argued that the critical slopes waiver was a “variance” under State law and that the Planning Commission was not enabled to grant variances (under State law, variances may be approved only by boards of zoning appeal.) ….The County’s position was that critical slopes waivers are not variances and, therefore, they did not have to be approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals.

The ruling determined that Planning Commissions lacked the statutory power  to grant waivers.  As a Dillon Rule state, localities have only the statutory powers that are expressly granted by the General Assembly.

MIMSXWriting for the majority Justice William Mims stated:

We therefore hold that the Waiver Provision’s delegation of power to grant waiver applications to the planning commission is legislative in nature and is not authorized by state law. Accordingly, in enacting the Waiver Provision, the county exceeded its authority from the General Assembly in violation of the Dillon Rule and the Waiver Provision is void.

The decision also called into question the planning commission’s authority to approve Tier II wireless facilities.  Absent this authority, the Planning Commission was forced to deny the applications on the grounds that as a body they dd not have the statutory authority to approve them.  This action permits the applicant to appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors (which does have the statutory authority to approve).  Interestingly, within the same motion, the Planning Commission endorsed each of the application on the merits of the application.

While the Free Enterprise Forum has no position on this specific case, we do believe it raises significant issues regarding policy implications.  This case called the question what is the proper role of a planning commission?

What should the Planning Commissions across the state be doing?

The original intent of Planning Commissions were to advise the Board of Supervisors (or City Council) on issues regarding the orderly development of the community.  This is to include the development of the state mandated comprehensive plan and, in Albemarle’s case, subservient Master Plans.  The review of site plans, agricultural forestal districts etc. have been folded into this legislative intent by considering it the implementation of the comprehensive plan.

In our reading of the original intent, this meant creating an overarching vision for the community and allowing the market to speak to that vision.  The reality that has followed has Planning Commissions meeting too often and discussing too much detail and (in Albemarle) one suggestion to further delegating site plan review to the Architectural Review Board (More on this next week).

In high growth localities, Planning Commissions are very busy.  Fairfax County’s Commission meets two nights a week and planning commissioners are paid $15,000 annually for their service [for means of comparison Albemarle meets, on average, three times a month and is paid $4,100 annually].

Are Planning Commissions doing work that could be handled moreAlbemarle Planning Commission Charlottesville Tomorrow.org efficiently by staff as an administrative decision?

Are those instances where significant issues arise better served by a hearing in front of the elected Board of Supervisors?

In the case of critical slopes, the Free Enterprise Forum believes these slope contribute to the ecological balance in their location.  This contribution is quantifiable.  If the slope, after disturbance, increases the positive ecological contribution, the disturbance should be approved.  Performance standards for such slopes can be established.  If one accepts this basic construct, such approvals can be administrative as they will be based on objective metrics.  If such waivers improve the environmental condition, we believe these should be routinely granted by staff.

It is our opinion that Planning Commissions (and Boards of Architectural Review) have experienced significant mission creep and continue to stray away from their original legislative intent.  Some, but not all, of this straying has been at the specific  direction of the General Assembly, and encouraged by the Virginia Association of Counties (VACO) lobbying group.  This is true in all localities but perhaps is best manifest in Albemarle County.

Late in last night’s meeting a Resolution of Intent was approved to change the zoning code and have the Board of Supervisors consider and act on all waivers as “special exceptions”, a type of approval expressly enabled by State zoning law.

This staff described “short term” solution will be considered at the previously scheduled joint public meeting of the Board and Planning Commission on February 8th.  Longer term solutions would require new State enabling legislation.

While the Free Enterprise Forum is appreciative of the tough spot this judicial ruling places applicants that are in the midst of the approval process, we believe the larger question should be engaged; should more decisions be administratively approved? 

We fear that rather than seeing the Sinclair decision as an opportunity to improve the development process by creating clear and objective standards that are acceptable to the community, localities will seek to further expand their statutory authority through legislative intiatives in Richmond.

Stay tuned.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

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20070731williamson Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credits: Valawyersweekly.com, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Fluvanna Board Okays Expanded Cell Tower

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

Fluvanna County’s Board of Supervisors raced through an extremely cell phone one barlight agenda on January 18th, granting a height increase (via special use permit) for a cell tower that has yet to built, and another special use permit for an electricity substation. There were no other public hearings. Much of the rest of the meeting was taken up by briefings on ongoing projects.

Supervisors were informed that the conversion to narrow banding for county communications is proceeding apace and that the county should meet the end-of-year federal deadline. Interim county administrator Darren Coffey outlined a timeline for hiring a new county administrator, and although some supervisors seemed to want a faster timetable, Mr. Coffey appeared to convince the Board that a more deliberative process would provide more qualified candidates. Coffey hopes to have the new administrator in place by April.

Staff also provided the Board with copies of several other jurisdictions’ codes of ethics should Fluvanna chooses to adopt such a code.

At its next meeting on February 1st, , supervisors will get their first look at the staff’s budget proposal for FY 2013, which begins on July 1st. At current tax rates, supervisors will face a $2-$3 million budget shortfall. Just to keep services at current levels, supervisors would have to raise real estate taxes between 10 and 15 percent.

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William Des Rochers is the Fluvanna 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.  To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Fluvanna Adopts a Telecommunications Ordinance, Discusses Zion’s Water

By William J. Des Rochers, Fluvanna Field Officer

Fluvanna County’s Board of Supervisors adopted a telecommunications ordinance at its September 21st meeting, perhaps ending years of muddled thinking, confusion, and ongoing charges of “not in my back yard”. The Board approved the ordinance by a 5-1 vote, with supervisor Don Weaver (Cunningham) voting against.

cell phone one barAccording to some estimates, fully half of the county’s land area has no cell phone capability, emergency communications, or broadband usage – or a combination of those services. Recently county officials commissioned a study to determine where telecommunication towers should be placed, and in a related action, supervisors agreed to be guided by that study.

The new ordinance explicitly states in what zoning districts particular towers may be placed, but more importantly from a vendor perspective, many of the placements will be by right, and not require a special use permit.

The by right condition should diminish substantially the pressure on the supervisors to reject particular tower placements in response to citizen opposition. Such opposition derailed one site approval a few years ago in one of the most under served areas in the county.

Special use permits still will be required for particular types of towers in certain zoning districts, but overall, the ordinance provides enhanced flexibility for vendors to provide service in twater supplyhe county.

In another development, supervisor Joe Chesser (Rivanna) reported that discussions with Aqua Virginia continue regarding bring water to the Zion Crossroads area of the county. A couple of options are under consideration but Aqua Virginia wants assurances that the service will be profitable within three years. That would require significant more economic activity in the area unless some water sales agreement could be reached with Louisa County.

Mr. Chesser also stated that Aqua Virginia is considering purchasing the Fork Union Sanitary District assets and accounts from the county for one million dollars. Aging infrastructure and declining well production will require substantial capital improvements over the coming years.

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William Des Rochers serves as Free Enterprise Forum’s Fluvanna County Field Officer.  The Free Enterprise Forum is a privately funded public policy organization covering Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson county as well as the City of Charlottesville.  If you find this update helpful, please consider financially supporting these efforts.

Verizon Puts Fluvanna on Hold; School Bonds Fail at Market

By William J. Des Rochers

Fluvanna Field Officer

Fluvanna officials got a double dose of economic reality late last week and one was not particularly good for the county’s image or economic development prospects.  

Verizon Suspends Operations

Verizon Wireless informed officials on September 26th that it was putting all cell tower projects on hold in the county, including a potentially cooperative effort with the county at Bremo Bluff.

Verizon Project Manager Mark Winsted informed the county that it is “reevaluating its network plans in the county [so it] will be on standby” according to an email sent to county officials.  Deputy county administrator Shelley Wright alerted supervisors and other officials of the decision on Friday afternoon.  “I will be talking with another carrier today or Monday and will see if there may be interest in some of these sites.” She wrote in an email. 

“This makes the Communications Master Plan even more important as we will need to look at the impact of locally funded infrastructure projects and preferred site options to market to other third-party carriers.” She advised.

The county had hoped to have a cooperative venture with Verizon to place a tower on county owned land in the Bremo Bluff area, to serve not only cell phone users but also the emergency communication needs of the county.  Now it likely will cost the county significantly more unless a new partner can be found.

One senior government official said that this would be “a setback to the momentum the county seemed to have developed to promote economic development.  The county’s actions [by supervisors and planning commissioners] threw a monkey wrench into Verizon’s network development and now the county has to face the consequences”.

No School Bonds

County administrator G. Cabell Lawton IV also informed supervisors that the potentially $75.5 million school bond issue had to be withdrawn after it failed to attract buyers in the current uncertain market.

According to sources, the county’s bond advisor, Davenport, notified officials that because of the financial market crisis and Congressional inaction, firms would not be able to bid because there are no buyers for municipal bonds. “Basically, there’s no liquidity”, on said.

 Officials hope to go back to the market again within the next forty-five days to get the funding needed for the high school.