Tobacco Row Mountain

The view of Amherst County from Tobacco Row Mountain. A group of Elon area residents said they are opposed to a 195-foot-tall cell tower proposed by Verizon Wireless because they feel it would disrupt their view of the scenic mountain.

A 195-foot-tall cell tower Verizon Wireless proposes to install in the Elon area received a major setback with the Amherst County Planning Commission’s unanimous recommendation for denial during its June 24 meeting.

The company is seeking a special exception to locate the tower on a 128-acre site zoned Agricultural Residential (A-1) at 801 Phyllis Lea Drive. More than a handful of neighboring property owners voiced opposition to the plan at a Feb. 20 public hearing on the grounds it disrupts their view of the scenic backdrop of Tobacco Row Mountain and threatens to negatively effect land values.

“This would definitely change the character of our area,” said Greg Freshour, who lives on nearby Kimberlea Road. “Property values, in my opinion and from what I researched, would be diminished …”

Several residents were allowed to briefly address commissioners during the June 24 meeting and restated their opposition. One speaker referred to the planned tower as “a monster.”

Verizon Wireless in a project description provided to the commission said the planned tower on a large wooded parcel away from residential structures would allow the company to improve coverage in an underserved area of Amherst County experiencing high levels of network traffic.

Lori Schweller, an attorney representing the company, said the project also is line with the county’s overall goal of boosting broadband coverage for all residents through private sector investment in infrastructure.

“Unfortunately, 64% of Virginia’s rural population lacks access to broadband, which many of us experienced during the last three months when we were educating from home or were fortunate enough to work from home,” Schweller said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. “There’s plenty of room for improvement for broadband and the most efficient way to bring broadband to the most number of people is through wireless. This is a real benefit to the community that Verizon would like to provide.”

The tower’s location is 295 feet from the closest boundary line shared with the right-of-way of Phyllis Lea Drive.

Commission chairwoman Beverly Jones asked Freshour about his WiFi capabilities. “I’ve been home for 10 weeks now and I’ve been working fine, no problem,” he said, adding everyone he’s spoken to in the area stated they are not experiencing internet coverage issues.

Whitney Gregory, a resident of Phyllis Lea Drive, described the tower proposal as “destructive” and said she would rather see the county pursue investments in hardwired Internet upgrades rather than wireless.

Schweller said studies have shown wireless towers do not adversely affect property values and during dialogue with commissioner Michael Martineau said: “Every locale is different, that is true.”

John Ledingham, who lives about 2,000 feet from where the tower would go, claimed property values would drop anywhere from 20% to 25%.

“That’s going to create a really big problem,” Ledingham said. “Something that’s going to cause all these problems will involve a lawsuit, and they will lose.”

The commission’s denial of the request drew applause from several gatherers. The matter is slated to head to the Amherst County Board of Supervisors.

Commissioner Derin Foor said he has been to the Elon area to consider the tower’s effect, used his phone from three different spots and didn’t have any issues.

“I agree there’s probably a better location that needs to be looked at,” Foor said. “I think it absolutely destroys the viewshed of Tobacco Row [Mountain].”

Reach Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.