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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fairfax County zoning board rejects cell tower at Parklawn pool

The Board of Zoning Appeals [Photo is from a video by Channel 16]
In a huge victory for residents who live next to a proposed cell tower at the Parklawn Recreation Association, the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) voted July 31 to deny a special permit for the cell tower.

That means the project is virtually dead—at least for the time being—even though the Fairfax County Planning Commission had recommended the Board of Supervisors approve the cell tower. A planned hearing by the Board of Supervisors will not take place.

Residents of Teton Place and Crater Place, who had complained that the tower would be an eyesore prominently visible from their homes and would hurt property values, were elated by the decision.

Six of the seven members of the Board of Zoning Appeals voted to deny the permit. One member, vice chair Paul Hammack Jr., abstained because he wasn’t at the public hearing July 17, when many local residents—opponents and supporters—presented their positions.

The BZA approved a motion 4-2, with one abstention, waiving the 12-month waiting period for the applicant to refile a similar application. AT&T could come back with another proposal for a cell tower at a different location on the Parklawn pool property. AT&T representative Ed Donohue said he is “not at liberty to say” whether the company will do that.

BZA member Norman Byers made the motion to deny the cell tower—even though a report by the Department of Planning and Zoning staff recommended approval—because it doesn’t conform to several sections in the Fairfax County zoning ordinance, including provisions call for structures to fit in harmoniously with surrounding properties and not affect their use or impair their value.

“Topography is the overriding factor,” said BZA member V. Max Beard, who noted that the tower would be on a ridge with homes above its base and that would create “a stadium effect.” He noted that many of the Parklawn pool members who support the tower “don’t live in the neighborhood so they don’t have to live with this 24/7.”

BZA member James Hart, who voted against it, said it might have worked if the topography was different and it wasn’t so close to houses. He said he previously supported cell towers at the Broyhill Crest and Holmes Run pools, both in Annandale, but noted that those towers are on flat ground and are surrounded by trees.

BZA member Tom Smith, who also voted against it, said he initially didn’t see any objections but when he made a site visit, he found it would be “very obtrusive and visible” from Teton Place. 


  1. OMG, I cannot believe that at least one Fairfax County government board actually followed what the government zoning recommendations say, that is, a structure should conform and be harmonious with its surrounding structures. I thought for sure the BZA would just blithely follow what the County Planning Commission and I'm sad to say even the Planning and Zoning Department did and that is go along with whoever has the most clout and money. Hats off to the residents who took your objections all the way to the appeals board. You all are superstars to those of us who have lost hope that the lowly residents can make a difference. Let AT&T build a cell tower next to the houses who wanted it.

  2. My fellow "anonymous" brings up a great point: find four residents whose homes butt up against each other -- who also voted for the tower -- and let AT&T put the tower in the adjoining corner. THAT would be the final justice. It's about time THOSE folks paid the price!

  3. Finally, common sense prevails.

  4. I hope you people enjoy marginal cell service in your homes. And that you do not mind waiting for advanced services (such as high-speed LTE) for a while longer. Towers may not be pretty, but good high-speed cell reception is a big asset and adds value in my opinion. I'd let them put a tower in my backyard but I already have good coverage.

    And no... I don't work for a cell company. Just a citizen who enjoys good cell service.

  5. At the end of this article is a link to the Video from Channel 16 showing the rationale for the BZA's decision on this matter. The video is helpful in showing why this was a difficult case and why AT&T did not meet several of the Standards in Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance Article 8. Parklawn case was 1st item in meeting which is about 20 to 25 minutes long.