Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Representatives from wireless companies that serve Albemarle are hopeful the county will loosen its policy on cell phone towers as new antennae that provide faster data service come up for approval in the coming year.

“The whole ordinance can be streamlined in a way that can save the county resources, save wireless providers resources in the form of unnecessary expenses and would ultimately help consumers,” said Valerie Long, an attorney who will represent AT&T in several forthcoming applications.

The county adopted an ordinance in 2000 to prevent construction of unsightly towers.

Download Albemarle County’s 2000 policy on cell towers

Download position report on changing Albemarle County’s wireless policy

“Our review process is really about visibility,” said David Benish, the county’s chief of planning.

Currently, if a tower cannot be seen, it can be approved administratively by staff.

If a tower has low visibility, it must go before the Planning Commission for approval. County staff floats a balloon to mimic the tower height in order to gauge its visibility.

If a proposed tower would be highly visible, the Board of Supervisors must consider a special-use permit. The ordinance also requires that supervisors weigh in on any tower that is more than 10 feet higher than the tallest nearby tree.

On Wednesday, supervisors approved permits for three applications from that category.

One tower owned by Verizon near the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Worker Memorial would be raised from 53.5 feet to 97 feet. The other two were for smaller increases in height.

All three were approved in part because the board, the Planning Commission and the Architectural Review Board all agreed that the new towers would not have a dramatic visual impact.

A fourth application was approved that will allow nTelos to place more antennae on an existing tower on Greenbrier Drive. That tower predates the 2000 ordinance.

“It’s a tower I would not have supported today,” said Supervisor Dennis Rooker. “But I don’t think it changes the visibility to add another antenna.”

AT&T, Verizon and nTelos are all seeking to install new towers in order to provide faster service known as 4G. The board is expected to review many more applications in the coming year.

“The importance of the 4G is primarily for data which is where the growth in wireless is these days,” said Lori Schweller, an attorney for LeClair Ryan, who represents Verizon.

Schweller used her presentation to explain that her client is seeking a liberalization of rules that restrict the placement of towers.

For instance, Schweller said, having to hold public hearings before three government bodies leads to unnecessary delay.

Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd agreed and said in an interview that he wants staff to study the ordinance to find ways to improve the review process.

“There were a couple projects today that probably shouldn’t have come to the board,” Boyd said.

In other news, the Board of Supervisors approved a special use permit that will allow the developers of a proposed 30-unit subdivision near the Clifton Inn to fill-in a flood plain so that a dam can be strengthened.

When the land was rezoned in 1978, the county required a second entrance to be built in order to alleviate traffic on Shadwell Road. The developer’s solution is to build a road on top of the dam to provide a connection to North Milton Road.

The Planning Commission recommended approval of the fill last November. State approval for filling in the flood plain is also required and still pending.

The development, which was formerly known as Clifton Lake, has been renamed Keswick Lake.


Interested in what we're working on next? Sign up for our weekly newsletter and never miss a story.