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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mason land use committee supports Parklawn cell tower

A full house at the May 28 Mason District Land Use Committee meeting.
The Mason District Land Use Committee (MDLUC) voted 3-2 May 28 to recommend the Fairfax County Planning Commission approve AT&T’s proposal for a cell tower on property owned by the Parklawn Recreation Association (PRA).

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.]
Following a couple of confusing actions by the MDLUC, the committee took a vote on a motion to recommend approval of the cell tower. Committee members Albert Riveros, Barry Wilson, and Chair Daniel Aminoff voted in favor of the motion. Julie Strandlie and Stephen Smith voted against it, and Jim Councilor abstained.

“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.


  1. It is doubtful that houses would be built considering that the Parklawn pool lies in a floodplain.
    The majority of monopole supporters do not live in Parklawn. They use the pool about 3 months of the year while Parklawn residents live here year-round.
    And what about the noise that the monopole's generator will make?

  2. It is too bad that Ellie continues to be so biased on her reporting, siding with a small but vocal group in the community. It should be said that a survey put on by the opposition to the tower found that a majority of folks in the community (which is NOT just the Parklawn neighborhood) were in support of the tower, so why cover this as if the community is against the tower? That is not the case.

    1. I don't have a position on it, one way or the other. I do support the cell tower in my own community of Broyhill Crest. If the pole does get built in Parklawn, I don't think it's going to be as noticeable as people think. You will adjust.

    2. I have seen the one in Broyhill Crest. It is up a sizable hill and at least a hundred yards from the nearest homes and well hidden by trees. The people that live in Parklawn that are in direct proximity of its proposed location currently look out their back windows and see trees and a pool. Now they'll get a VERY CLEAR view of a large monopole with the chunky transmitter/receivers attached at the top of it—at eye level. How awesome is that?

  3. Houses could be built at one point? I would take houses over a cell tower any day.

    The support for this cell tower appears to defy logic. If there is decent coverage, why do they need it?

  4. Housing could be worse. Because of the floodplain, the developer would try to maximize on the land that is buildable and that would increase the density. If the tower is not built the vacant pool could sit there for years until a determination by the County is made on developing rights and density. That in itself would be more contentious than a cell tower. A single pole, albeit not pretty and an unfortunate by product of our technology addiction is the lesser of two evils. The cell tower leaves most of the site in a natural setting with a pool. High density housing would over power this beautiful site, such as the monster looming over Lake Barcroft adjacent to the creek and Columbia Pike. This kind of density could potentially end up as a Parklawn neighbor.