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Cell tower proposed in Arrington receives commission's support for approval

Cell tower proposed in Arrington receives commission's support for approval

Only $5 for 5 months

Following a six-month break from meetings largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nelson County Planning Commission on July 22 unanimously recommended approval of a new 199-foot-tall cell tower in Arrington.

Verizon Wireless is looking to place the tower on more than 37 acres zoned Agriculture Residential, A-1, at 571 Phoenix Road. Verizon applied for a Class C Tower permit with modifications to county ordinances to achieve the task. The planning commission’s recommendation comes at a time when the pandemic and approaching fall school semester has highlighted the need to make reliable, high-speed internet available to unserved areas in the county.

“We need the coverage. This county suffers. I live in the South District and I wish I was close to a tower that would give me the coverage that I’m going to need for my kids who are getting ready to go to school and I don’t,” South District planning commission member Mary Kathryn Allen said.

Dylan Bishop, the county’s director for planning and zoning, outlined exceptions to current county ordinances that the proposed tower carries with it. The tower itself would stand at 195 feet tall with a lightning rod of an additional 4 feet, exceeding the current height limit of 130 feet. Among some of the exceptions applied July 22, Verizon would be allowed to have a smaller fall zone of 120 feet from the base of the tower, and a maximum of 18 antennas, double the usual amount allowed under county ordinance.

According to Bishop, a Class C tower is any communications tower located in a residential-zoned area; any tower in a district that is taller than 100 feet up to a maximum of 130; or any communication tower within 300 feet of an occupied dwelling provided all owners affirm in writing they have no objection to the proposed tower.

Class C towers must be approved by the board of supervisors, which has the authority to modify height, fall area and the number of antennas.

“This is an area that has very poor coverage and our radio frequency engineer really need the maximum to cover as much as possible by this site and so this is what we were told we need,” said Lori Schweller, a lawyer representing Verizon Wireless, when asked to explain why the extra height was needed.

Some neighboring property owners expressed concerns regarding the planned monopole tower during a public hearing at the July 22 meeting. Lynette Miles, whose property is adjacent to the proposed site, is the closest resident to the site at 473 feet, according to documents.

Miles said her primary concerns regarding the proposed tower are any apparent health risks, including any adverse effects of constant exposure to radiation.

Both Schweller and commission chairman Mark Stapleton said to their knowledge there is no scientific evidence that cell towers pose any health risks to nearby homeowners through radiation exposure.

“I feel confident in expressing to [the planning commission] that we are not posing health risks with this facility” Schweller.

Schweller also said because the tower’s height is less than 200 feet, the company is not required to equip it with lights that could potentially cause a disturbance to nearby residents. She also addressed concerns over noise, stating towers are equipped with generators that only run occasionally either for testing purposes or in case of a power outage, but any noise coming from the equipment would be negligible.

In a letter to county staff, Michael Hodgson expressed concern regarding the methods Verizon Wireless used to select a site for the tower, claiming the company had little regard for the property value of surrounding homes. To accommodate those who could not be in attendance because of COVID-19 the board accepted written public comments this week.

“I suggest that the Planning Commission refuse this application and that Verizon undertake a comprehensive site selection process that includes giving priority to areas with no or little nearby residential housing,” Hodgson wrote.

Hodgson claimed real estate studies show the value of surrounding properties could drop by about 20%. Schweller said studies have shown property values rise with the addition of nearby towers in rural counties like Nelson.

According to Bishop, the current comprehensive plan — a document outlining plans for future growth as well as development goals expressed by county officials — does not address cell towers or their infrastructure.

“We do need coverage in some spots like that, like I said just keep in the back of our mind that we are going to get more and more and more,” East District commissioner Charles Amante said.

Nelson County Board of Supervisors representative Ernie Reed, who sits on both boards, said the proposed cell tower fits within the board’s goal of connecting the residents of Nelson County with wireless internet options, especially in underserved areas like Arrington.

The proposed cell tower is now slated to go before the board of supervisors for consideration.

East District commissioner Michael Harman was not present for the vote.

Nick Cropper covers Nelson County. Reach him at (434) 385-5522.

Nick Cropper covers Nelson County. Reach him at (434) 385-5522.

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