Frederick County board puts off action on cell tower

WINCHESTER – Frederick County leaders postponed action on a proposed cell tower that drew opposition by neighbors.

The Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to table a request by Shentel to build a cell tower on the Bowman Library property at 871 Tasker Road, Stephens City, in the Shawnee Magisterial District.

Shawnee District Supervisor Gene Fisher, citing concerns raised by opponents of the proposal, suggested the board put off action on the permit to the next meeting and to keep the public hearing on the application open for 30 days. Fisher asked a Shentel representative if the delay would allow the company to reach out to residents concerned with the proposed tower.

Shenandoah Mobile LLC, also referred to as Shentel, requested a conditional-use permit to build a 165-foot, monopole-style, commercial telecommunications facility or cell tower on property occupied by the library. The 16-acre property lies surrounded by homes and open space.

Staff suggested that the owner make the tower available for co-locating personal wireless services providers. This would allow for an increased number of antennas to be added to the tower in the future. All antennas must be flush-mounted to the tower and the monopole must be painted brown and not be lighted. However, the Winchester Regional Airport director recommended that the tower include lights for safety reasons. Fisher, who sits on the authority board, said lights were needed for the tower as originally proposed at 195 feet and should not be required on the shorter height.

Board Chairman Charles DeHaven Jr. reminded the audience before the public hearing that supervisors cannot reject a cell tower based on concerns about the affects of radio frequencies on health. A Shentel representative earlier in the meeting had cited federal law pertaining to the restriction on the board.

However, the first speaker said the pole would lie in the direct path of migratory birds that use the lake on the property. The speaker said Shentel refused his request to review an environmental impact study on the proposed tower but acknowledged such a report does exist. The speaker warned that opponents of the tower would challenge the company’s pursuit at the federal level if necessary.

Most speakers live in the Shawnee District and one said he resides across from the proposed tower site and rejected the claim by Shentel representatives that the monopole would not affect property values. A couple of speakers said the only reason Shentel wants to build the tower is to compete with Verizon. Another speaker said she wondered if Shentel wanted to build the tower only to make money by co-locating antennas for other providers.

A petition signed by 266 people in opposition to the tower was given to the Board of Supervisors. Nearly a dozen people spoke against Shentel’s request. No one spoke in favor of the request.

After the hearing, a Shentel representative sought to address concerns raised by speakers. He cited a report stating that the tower would not negatively affect species such as migratory birds. The representative also reiterated the need for the tower

A handful of Shentel representatives presented information to the board before the hearing and made the company’s pitch for the need to add the monopole in the area. Many Shentel customers in the Tasker Road area complain about a lack of reliable service, representatives said. The area boasts the highest concentration of customers in the county, the representative said.

Shentel also has looked at a water tank near Interstate 81 as a possible location. The representative said the location would not provide as much coverage as the library property.

County plans for future development recommend the area retain its residential character, staff members have said.

Shentel also asked for a waiver from county zoning regulations that would reduce the required property setback from 200 feet to 127 feet.

The Planning Commission recently voted to recommend that the Board of Supervisors deny the permit request after eight people spoke against the proposal at a public hearing. Opponents claimed the tower would create negative impacts on health and the ecosystem, create a safety hazard should the monopole collapse, reduce property values and appear as an eyesore. At that time, the applicant sought to built a 195-foot tower.

Since the Planning Commission meeting March 1, staff members and representatives of the applicant met to modify the conditions of the permit and to address concerns raised at the hearing. Modifications included lowering the height by 30 feet, making all antennas flush-mounted to the tower, painting the monopole brown and not include lighting.

The applicant provided documentation from an engineer that verifies if the tower collapses the monopole would remain contained in an area around the facility. A representative told the board that the library would be in no danger if the tower fell.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com