Improved cell phone service is looking more promising for Nelson County residents after the Nelson County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to grant a special use permit for the construction of a cell phone tower.

On Nov. 14, the board voted to approve a special use permit application from Verizon to construct a 150-foot-tall steel monopole telecommunications tower with a four-foot lightning rod at 29 Whispering Pines Drive in Piney River. The applicant requested three modifications including allowing the Class C tower to be taller than normal to improve service, to decrease the amount of land required to be left open around it, and allow more antennas than normal. A standard Class C tower is 130 feet tall and only permitted to have three arrays with three antennas each. This one would be 154 feet tall and one array with six antennas would be permitted. Typically Class C towers require 110% of the tower height to be designated fall space, in this case 165 feet. This one has 30 feet designated as fall space because the tower is designed to collapse on itself should something happen.

The board had no problems with the requested waiver, but did have issues with the Virginia Department of Transportation requirements.

VDOT is requiring a commercial entrance be constructed, but members of the board didn’t see why that would be necessary. Thomas Bruguiere, West District representative, said he can’t think of any other towers in the county that required a commercial entrance. Dylan Bishop, director of planning and zoning, said VDOT requires it due to changes in use.

“There are six homes nearby and putting the tower up would increase the intensity in use,” Bishop said.

Tommy Harvey, vice chairman and North District representative, said VDOT was upset because of the number of houses constructed there, not necessarily because the tower would change that much.

“It’s because they are ticked off because there’s more than two houses,” Harvey said.

According to an email from VDOT representative Jeff Kessler dated Oct. 10, Whispering Pines Drive is a “non-state maintained road serving five or more individual residences or lots for individual residences.” Kessler went on to say in the email the road’s access to Virginia 151 is substandard to current VDOT regulations and would require upgrading to meet geometric requirements and site distance requirements for a commercial entrance should a tower be built.

“A commercial entrance site plan prepared by a Virginia licensed professional engineer or appropriately certified land survey addressing the requirements outlined in Appendix F of VDOT’s Road Design Manual is required,” Kessler said in his email.

Bruguiere said the commercial entrance requirement isn’t necessary because there wouldn’t be daily travel to and from the tower. Lori Schweller, a Verizon representative, said the commercial entrance requirement is a challenge for them, but not a deal breaker.

“The option that makes sense to pursue first is the waiver option. I think that’s the path of least resistance. If we can’t do that, we’ll look for an easement through neighboring property,” Schweller told the board.

The board said it’s supportive of the tower and believes there are ways to make it work with the requirement from VDOT.

“The citizens need that tower,” Bruguiere said.

Jesse Rutherford, East District representative, asked if there would be room for other tenants on the tower and Schweller confirmed there would be.

The board approved the request without the condition that Verizon meet VDOT requirements, as recommended by the Nelson County Planning Commission last month.

Erin Conway covers Nelson County for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5524.