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Bedford County considering changes that would help fast-track wireless towers, broadband
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Bedford County considering changes that would help fast-track wireless towers, broadband

BEDFORD — Constructing wireless communication facilities — specifically wireless towers — on properties that would formerly have required rezoning for approval may become a less arduous process with a proposed amendment to Bedford County’s zoning ordinance.

Supervisors unanimously moved to allow the county planning commission to amend the Bedford County zoning ordinance to allow Class 3 and 4 wireless towers — the tallest towers of the four “classes” available — to be constructed on properties of certain zoning which currently prohibits these classes of facilities. The amendment would especially target proposed wireless communication facilities on land owned, leased, or otherwise controlled by an adjoining jurisdiction within Bedford County borders, and require a special use permit instead of rezoning.

If the proposed zoning ordinance amendment passes, it would allow wireless towers to go up faster around the county and help fast-track broadband initiatives.

“These towers do bring broadband capabilities with them,” said Jordan Mitchell, director of community development for Bedford County.

The original zoning ordinance amendment requested was to allow construction of wireless communication facilities by right on Bedford County properties owned or somehow controlled by a locality adjoining Bedford County.

District 7 Supervisor Tammy Parker moved to amend the zoning ordinance text to require approval of a special use permit for constructing a wireless communication facility, rather than by right. District 4 Supervisor John Sharp agreed. Requiring a special use permit would be an easier, more efficient process than rezoning, but would let Bedford County and its residents to keep a hand in the activities.

Sharp added he expected the board most often would approve special use permits for wireless towers, since they would serve to expand broadband infrastructure and help the county deliver on its goal of providing reliable high-speed internet access to underserved and unserved areas of the county.

“It’s in the interest of the citizens within our community to have the tower, but I’d at least like to have an out, just in case,” Sharp said.

The text amendment came after Cellco Partnership, under Verizon Wireless, requested to construct a Class 4 wireless tower on a residential-zoned land parcel owned by the City of Lynchburg within Bedford County borders, in the Boonsboro area. Cellco Partnership would contract with both the City of Lynchburg and Bedford County to develop on the land.

Several residents in the area spoke Tuesday in support of the proposed tower and zoning ordinance amendment. Each speaker said for years they had been unable to obtain reliable, high-speed internet where they lived, and the need had become more critical with working and schooling from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Having the proposed tower would give them options to obtain a much-needed broadband resource, they said.

“We’ve been in the dark ages for 30 years. We’d love to get out,” said Bob Platt, a 30-year resident on Audubon Drive. “We’ve tried everything that’s come along.”

District 5 Supervisor Tommy Scott said broadband expansion is a top priority for supervisors and the county.

“I think we ought to do whatever we can to speed the process up,” he said before casting his vote in favor of the ordinance amendment.

The Bedford County Planning Commission will review the text amendment before presenting a final recommendation to the board of supervisors for official action and possible adoption in a future meeting.

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