A cell tower planned to reach 154 feet in the western area of Nelson County is a step closer to receiving clearance from county officials for installation.
The Nelson County Planning Commission voted unanimously Jan. 27 to recommend approval of the tower at 499 Jonesboro Road in Roseland. Verizon Wireless is pursuing the project, which consists of a 150-foot tower and a 4-foot lightning rod, on a parcel of 171 acres zoned Agricultural (A-1).
Charles Alvis, an attorney representing the company, said within a 5-mile radius of the proposed tower site there’s nothing in the way of current service for Verizon.
“This would greatly improve that,” Alvis said of coverage in an underserved area. “The need here is great. This is really becoming a utility.”
More than 75% of 911 calls come from cellphones, according to Alvis’s presentation to the commission. The county’s maximum allowance for Class C communication towers is 130 feet while the commission’s recommended approval allows going up another 24 feet.
Alvis said the height increase is based on engineers’ determination on most effective service.
“Losing elevation on this proposed facility would really significantly impact the coverage we would be able to provide the community,” Alvis said.
John Saunders, of Silver Creek Orchards Inc., said during a public hearing he has been hopeful for a cell tower for years.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” Saunders said. “I’ve been begging for this moment for a long time.”
Saunders said coverage is lacking on Virginia 56 and Nelson County Public Schools students learning remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic would benefit greatly from the improved service.
“This would really help the local community,” Saunders said. “I’m so excited, I just can’t stand it …this is just a game changer all around.”
Christine Carr spoke out against the planned tower, citing health, environmental and effect on real estate values as concerns. She said she was speaking on behalf of siblings in the Massies Mill and Tyro areas and her family has been in that part of the county for five generations.
“We just love the view of the county,” Carr said. “We don’t want it to be destroyed by infrastructure.”
She described such towers as a “monstrosity” and questioned why the company is allowed to exceed the county’s height requirement of 130 feet. “Where does it stop?” Carr said.
Shannon Powell, of Tyro, said the tower is a “life changer” for the community, noting the lack of cellular service that is a concern in cases of accidents and emergencies.
“From a safety standpoint, potentially you can save lives by putting a cell phone tower there,” Powell said.
Commissioner Mary Kathryn Allen, of Gladstone, said her area has lacked adequate coverage and recent strides made by Firefly Fiber Broadband, a subsidiary of Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, has made remote learning at home better for her children. She said the planned tower’s improving coverage would make a huge difference in the lives of Nelson businesses and residents.
The request now heads to the Nelson County Board of Supervisors. Central District Supervisor and Board of Supervisors Chair Ernie Reed, who serves on the commission, said expansion of cellular coverage is a county priority.
“I can’t speak highly enough in favor of this,” Reed said.
Commissioner Michael Harmon, who lives a mile from the tower site, said he and neighbors in the Massie’s Mill community don’t have a cell signal.
“We desperately in the West District need cell service,” Harmon said.