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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Mason land use committee reviews Parklawn cell tower proposal

A "balloon test" shows the height of the tower.
The large meeting room at the Mason District Government Center was packed Feb. 26, as supporters and opponents of a proposed cell tower at the Parklawn Pool made their case before the Mason District Land Use Committee (MDLUC).

AT&T is requesting a special exception amendment to construct a 128-foot “monopine,” a cell tower disguised as a redwood tree, and utility shed in a wooded area on property owned by the Parklawn Recreation Association (PRA).

The MDLUC didn’t take a position on the cell tower proposal and will address the issue again at its March 26 meeting. The Fairfax County Planning Commission is scheduled to have a public hearing on the cell tower April 25. It will go before the Board of Zoning Appeals May 8.

AT&T representative Ed Donohue told the MDLUC the cell tower is needed because there have been lots of complaints about the lack of coverage in the area. Since he spoke at a community meeting in November, some changes have been made in the proposal: No trees will be removed, and a fence has been added.

MDLUC Chair Roy Lounsbury said he was disappointed that AT&T was unable to point out on a map the areas in the community that lack cell coverage and failed provide information on alternative sites.

PRA President Heath Brown said he supports the tower because residents of the community don’t have good cell reception and because the tower will help the pool. The pool is a valuable asset to the community, providing a place for exercise and social activities, Brown said, but the PRA is in a “precarious financial situation” with waning membership, aging facilities, and no money to invest in large capital projects. The pool is in a “death spiral,” and its future survival depends on the revenue it would get from the cell tower, he said.

Cell phone coverage
Michael Gates, speaking on behalf of PACACT, a group organized to oppose the cell tower, said there are many other alternative sites nearby, such as Peace Lutheran Church, Dora Kelley Park, and Glen Hills Park, that would provide good coverage and where the cell tower would have less of a visible impact. If it goes up at the pool, he said, it would “stick out garishly like a sore thumb.”

Austin Bozarth of Heywood Glen raised safety concerns about the lack of coverage. He said his wife sees vagrants, sometimes naked, while jogging through the neighborhood and would be unable to call the police if threatened.

“Why not put the tower in those areas without good coverage?” asked Mary Lynch, who lives on Teton Place and does have good cell reception. The tower will be very visible from her house and “would certainly devalue my quality of life,” she said. John Edwards, who also lives on Teton Place, which is adjacent to the pool property, urged AT&T to consider newer, less invasive technology.

A woman who lives close to the pool noted that the cell tower proposal has split the community with some neighbors no longer talking to one another. She raised concerns about the visibility of the tower and its impact on health, wildlife, and the watershed and suggested the PRA consider other ways to raise money.

Land use concerns

Becky Choi, of the anti-cell tower group, did some research and found the land has a restrictive covenant stating it can’t be used for for-profit purposes, so the cell tower would be in violation of the deed. Also, the PRA charter says the PRA must benefit the residents of Parklawn. “The deed restriction is a contractual issue, not a land use issue,” Donohue responded. “That’s a matter for the courts if she wants to litigate.”  

PRA member Barbara Gleason, a resident of Heywood Glen, reminded the audience that if the pool fails financially, the land could be sold to a private developer who would put up condos. Janet Hall, who represents Mason on the Planning Commission, noted the land is zoned R-3, so a higher-density development would require a lengthy rezoning process. [Considering how much infill development is going on around here, though, something like that isn’t out of the question.]

Hall told the audience the Planning Commission and the MDLUC only consider land use and cell coverage—not issues about pool revenue or health. “Those may be valid concerns of yours but they’re not something we can address.” She also said resale data show cell towers don’t lead to declines in property values.

Saint Michael's preschool

Also at the meeting, the committee heard a proposal for a preschool at Saint Michael School on Ravensworth Road in Annandale. The school wants to renovate two existing classrooms for 3 and 4-year-olds. The facility wouldn’t be expanded and the school’s enrollment wouldn’t increase, said Lynne Strobel a land use attorney representing Saint Michael..

VDOT is expected to recommend a left turn lane on Ravensworth, but Strobel told the MDLUC that shouldn’t be necessary. The Planning Commission is scheduled to hear the preschool proposal April 4.

At the close of the meeting Hall announced that Lounsbury is retiring from the committee after 25 years. He was recognized Feb. 26 by the Board of Supervisors. MDLUC member Dan Aminoff will be the new chair.


  1. Thank you for continuing to cover the Parklawn Cell Tower issue. Your information to those affected on both sides of this issue remains invaluable.

  2. Thanks for covering the Land Use Committee meeting and keeping the residents aware of events that affect them.

  3. Has the Parklawn Civic Association President issued a position on the Parklawn cell tower?? (Or did I miss it?) Did she attend the meeting and make a statement either in favor or in opposition to the proposal?

  4. No, the Parklawn Civic Association has not taken a position on the cell tower because the residents are divided on it.

  5. The Parklawn Civic Association (PCA) has not taken an official position on the cell tower proposal. I explained to the land use commission that PCA conducted a survey of opinion which resulted in mathematical output data (pro and con) for Parklawn and the surrounding neighborhoods. PCA forwarded this survey to Aaron Frank of Penny Gross's office.

    Richard C. Zambito
    Vice President
    Parklawn Civic Association