|The Parklawn Pool|
More than 100 people, mostly residents of Parklawn and Heywood Glen, packed the cafeteria of Glasgow Middle School Wednesday evening to hear representatives of AT&T describe their proposal for a cell tower at the Parklawn Recreation Association (PRA).
The prospect of a cell tower has been divisive for the community. Some people who live near the pool have organized a petition drive and created a website and Facebook group to mobilize opposition to the facility. They charge the tower would be an eyesore, decrease the value of their homes, and pose health risks. Members of the PRA, however, see the tower as a much-needed revenue source, as the aging pool facility needs renovations and it’s become harder to recruit new members.
|The proposed cell tower will be behind the houses on Teton Place in Parklawn.|
AT&T representative Ed Donohue, of Donohue and Stearns Inc., a commercial real estate company with a specialty in wireless facilities, said the tower is needed because there’s a gap in AT&T coverage in Parklawn. Actually, “it’s not a tower,” he said. “What we’re proposing is a ‘stealth tree pole.’” He displayed pictures of similar structures with fake branches on top to help them blend in with a wooded environment.
His company performed a “balloon test” to show what the 128-foot pole would look like from different spots in the neighborhood. Another, more extensive balloon test will be done as part of the official review process.
Before AT&T can proceed, Fairfax County will have to approve a special permit application and special exception. The Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals, Planning Commission, and Board of Supervisors will hold hearings on the proposal before final approval. That process will take six to eight months, Donohue said, and members of the public will have a chance to submit comments at all states of the review process.
Currently, staff from the Department of Planning and Zoning is preparing a report that will consider the visual impact, setback requirements, impact on traffic, environmental impact, number of trees to be removed, and other issues.
AT&T hopes two or three other cellular companies will share space on the tower. AT&T is proposing a 12 by 20-foot boxlike facility embedded in the hill near the tower, and there would be a similar unit for each of the other companies.
Members of the audience raised all sorts of questions—from the possible impact on wildlife (not much, said Donohue) to the noise (like a residential air conditioner), from the needed maintenance (minimal) to the possibility of less-intrusive structures (no).
According to Donohue, there are at least a dozen tree-like cell towers in Fairfax County, including one at the Broyhill Crest Recreation Association and another at Holmes Run Pool, both in Annandale.
Parklawn resident Mary Lynch asked whether Donohue had researched studies on the health impact of living near a cell tower. Donohue cited several studies by the American Cancer Society, World Health Organization, National Cancer Institute, and other organizations that confirmed the towers are safe.
Lynch was not convinced, arguing there’s not enough information to determine the long-term effect of exposure. “I don’t want some slow-growing tumor that takes 20 years to show up,” she said. She recently bought a house on Teton Place, directly behind the pool and said she wouldn’t have moved there if she’d known there was going to be a cell tower in her backyard.
|This photo from AT&T shows the exact location of the tower, between 4125 and 4127 on Teton Place.|