|A full house at the May 28 Mason District Land Use Committee meeting.|
The recommendation is for a “mono-pole” with a graduated paint scheme ranging from brown at the base to sky blue at the top, rather than a “mono-pine” with fake branches. That mono-pole concept is supported in a staff report expected to be released later this week by the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ).
|A cell tower with graduated paint in Madison County, Va. [Photo from Bechtel Communications.]|
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to have something of his magnitude in a residential area,” said Smith. “This goes beyond the core infrastructure of a community.”
The Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing on the proposal June 13, and the Board of Zoning Appeals will hear it July 10. A vote by the Board of Supervisors hasn’t been scheduled yet.
This was the MDLUC’s third meeting on the Parklawn cell tower. Previous meetings were emotional and contentious, and this one was no exception, with supporters and opponents sitting on opposite of the room. In general, people who support the cell tower tend to be members of the Parklawn pool concerned about cellular coverage. Those against it tend to live close to the PRA and oppose it for aesthetic reasons.
AT&T representative Ed Donohue showed several photos taken at various locations in Parklawn that suggested a mono-pole with a graduated paint scheme would be less visibly intrusive than a pole disguised as a tree. He said AT&T was unable to find a comparable site in the area that would fill a gap in coverage, while opponents of the tower disputed the need for a cell tower.
PRA President Heath Brown spoke in favor of the cell tower, saying it would lead to improved cellular service, improve area business opportunities through better voice and data communications, and improve safety by providing reliable 911 service in case of potential crimes or medical emergencies.
Brown said a majority of PRA members support the tower. The Parklawn Civic Association hasn’t taken a position on the proposal.
Parklawn resident Michael Gates spoke against the cell tower as a representative of PACACT (Parklawn Area Citizens Against Cell Towers). “We’re not against all cell towers, just poorly planned and poorly located cell towers,” he said.
Gates urged the MDLUC to recommend rejection of the proposal for several reasons: “It would have a negative visual impact.” AT&T failed to adequately consider alternative sites, such as Peace Lutheran Church. More up-to-date maps than the one presented by Donohue fail to show a lack of cellular coverage in the affected area. Noise from the tower will be exacerbated by its location at a lower level than nearby houses.
A 2012 U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that upheld the Board of Supervisors’ rejection of a cell tower in the Fort Hunt area sets a precedent for rejecting this proposal, Gates said.
In addition, he said, the proposal is inconsistent with 13 of the 20 policies relevant to cell towers in the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan. For example, he cited policies that call for proposed projects to minimize the visual impact, fit the character of the surrounding residential area, and avoid steep slopes and resource protection areas.
Chris Caperton, chief of the DPZ’s Public Facilities Branch, said those policies are guidelines, “not hard and fast rules.” The county recognizes that a pole that tall can’t be totally concealed, but the graduated paint would mitigate the visual impact, added Rebecca Horner, senior staff coordinator in the DPZ. She said that under AT&T’s revised proposal, no trees would be removed, a board fence would surround the pole and utility shed, and there would be no more than two carriers on the pole.
When members of the audience had a chance to chime in, one very emotional opponent said emails she received from people at the pool prove “the whole thing about no one can get coverage down there is crap.” Someone else noted, “the sky is not always blue,” so a sky-blue monopole won’t always be hidden.
A supporter of the pole said anyone who buys property next to privately owned undeveloped land should expect it to be developed at some point. And if the tower is rejected, houses could be built there at some point.