The Shenandoah County Planning Commission tabled action on a permit request for a replacement telecommunications tower on the southern end of the county on Thursday night after Shentel revealed the new tower may no longer be needed.

Shentel had filed the application for a special-use permit that would allow the construction of a new 300-foot telecommunications tower at 10384 S. Middle Road in Edinburg as it sought to replace an existing tower on an adjacent parcel of land located at 192 Short Run Road in Mount Jackson. Shentel representatives had previously cited stalled negotiations regarding its lease, which expires on March 31, on the Short Run Road property that houses the current tower as the company’s motive for pursuing a new tower site. Shentel notified the county on Thursday that it had earlier this week started to make progress toward an agreement with the third-party leasehold owner.

Valerie Long, an attorney representing Shentel, told members of the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors during a joint public hearing on Thursday that Shentel was “close” to reaching a “reasonable” resolution with the leasehold owner, though she acknowledged negotiations were still ongoing.

According to Jason Smith, the county’s zoning/subdivision administrator, Shentel sent the county a letter on Thursday morning asking that the public hearing pertaining to the company’s permit request for a replacement tower scheduled for that night be deferred. Long explained that Shentel did not want to waste the county’s time going through a process that may no longer be necessary, though members of the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors chose to proceed with the public hearing so that Shentel has one less hurdle to cross if it does indeed need to pursue construction of a new tower.

Commissioners voted unanimously to table their action on the special-use permit application for 60 days, by which time Shentel could inform the county whether or not it does need to proceed with the construction of a new tower. The tower at 192 Short Run Road has been in operation since 1996, and Long stated it has been Shentel’s preference all along that it continue using that tower rather than seek an alternative.

In December, the Board of Supervisors, at Shentel’s request, amended language in the county code pertaining to telecommunications tower height that would allow Shentel to construct a new 300-foot tower to replace the existing one in question. The county worked quickly to make the necessary changes because of the March 31 date for the expiration of Shentel’s lease on the Mount Jackson property.

Tyler Hinkle, the county planner, read aloud during the public hearing a letter from Denny Shirley, owner of the property at 192 Short Run Road, in which Shirley stated that in 2013 he granted “an easement over a portion of my property occupied by the existing Shentel tower to TriStar Investors LLC as assigned which provided for a split in future rental revenue upon the expiration of the lease agreement with Shentel.”

Shirley’s letter further stated that the easement agreement does not demand Shentel be removed from the site by March 31, nor does it demand a “4,000% rental increase,” a reference to Long’s statement during a Planning Commission meeting in November. Instead, Shirley wrote, the agreement “provides an avenue to negotiate the terms of a new lease.”

“This ability to negotiate was vitally important to me,” Shirley wrote, “as the existing lease on my property, which was executed in 1996, provides monthly rental income that is slightly less than market rent for the area.”

During the public hearing for the special-use permit regarding the proposed new tower, a handful of neighbors expressed opposition to such a structure being erected at 10384 S. Middle Road, citing concerns about decreases in land value and the tower being a general eyesore to the surrounding area.

At the start of Thursday’s meeting, a moment of silence was held for Planning Commission member and District 3 representative Kathleen Curtis, who died early this week.

Also on Thursday, commissioners voted unanimously to reappoint Gary Lantz as chair and Debbie Keller as vice chair of the Planning Commission. The committee also approved its 2021 meeting schedule and will continue to meet at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month.

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