Thursday, December 8, 2011
Albemarle Board of Supervisors
has voted to pay a consultant to determine if the county’s existing policy on cell towers will impede implementation of the next generation of wireless communications services.
“We’re being told by [those] who represent carriers interested in providing 4G [service] that in order to do it effectively they need to have a tower that’s ten feet higher than currently permitted,” Supervisor
Dennis S. Rooker
said. “Those are the kinds of things I think we want to get an outside view on.”
Supervisors voted to spend up to $12,000 from their reserve fund to pay the firm Kreines & Kreines to prepare a study for what changes might be necessary to make it easier for firms to locate new towers. The same firm authored the county’s current policy, which was adopted in December 2000.
The policy places visibility as the number one criteria for whether a tower location is approved.
“Staff believes the industry and the public do want wireless service in all parts of the county without sacrificing those unique features of Albemarle County which make it a special place,” said Bill Fritz, the county’s chief of current development.
According to a position paper written by attorneys for Verizon Wireless, 4G towers must be taller and must be separated from other frequencies to avoid interference.
The company has asked for changes to be made to the county’s wireless policy in advance of a series of applications it will make next year.
“We have noticed an increase in the number of applications that we’ve been receiving,” Fritz said.
Currently there are three tiers of review. Towers that will not be visible only require a building permit which can be handled by staff (tier 1). Slightly visible towers require approval by the Planning Commission (tier 2), and heavily visible ones require approval by the Board of Supervisors (tier 3).
Staff had asked supervisors if they wanted Kreines to conduct a full review of the policy.
“It may be appropriate to revisit what a tier 3 is and make that a tier 2,” Fritz said. “Changes in how these things are processed could be some of the discussions included [in the study].”
However, Rooker said he was only interested in having Kreines investigate claims that the existing policy would prevent 4G service from being rolled out in Albemarle.
“We want to allow our citizens to have 4G service but I think we all want to protect the visibility of the community as best we can,” Rooker said.
Valerie Long is representing the carriers nTelos and AT&T in several upcoming applications. She said the county did not need to hire a consultant, but should instead focus on ways to make it easier for firms to have their tower locations approved.
“There are a number of very simple and extremely non-controversial tweaks to the ordinance in terms of the procedure, process, [and] application requirements that could be made very quickly at no cost to the county in terms of consultants,” Long said.
Kenneth C. Boyd
said he felt the existing policy has been working fine and he did not see a need to do a comprehensive review.
Duane E. Snow
said his priority is to extend cell service to all of Albemarle County in order to promote economic development.
“I would like to see what we can do to fast-track getting cell coverage throughout the entire county,” Snow said.
Snow called for a committee made up of industry representatives to encourage them to expand internet service to the entire county.
County Attorney Larry Davis reminded Snow that telecommunications is a for-profit industry and the county cannot compel companies to provide service.
“Unless they can make a profit or are being required by some regulatory agency to provide service, it’s going to be difficult to accomplish that,” Davis said.