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Friday, September 27, 2013

Board of Supervisors approves Parklawn cell tower

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution Sept. 24 to approve a special exception permitting the construction of a 128-foot cell tower on property owned by the Parklawn Recreation Association.

That action follows a BoS hearing Sept. 10 during which more than three dozen residents presented strong, passionate feelings on both sides of the issue.

Mason Supervisor Penny Gross, vice chair of the BoS, presented the motion to approve special exception application SEA-93-M-047 “subject to the revised development conditions consistent with those dated June 13, 2013, and as amended with addition of a 25th development condition that the monopole may not be constructed until the applicant contains an approved SPA [special permit application].”

The SPA would amend the special permit for pool operations on that property approved more than 40 years ago. The Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) denied the SPA in late July, and the cell tower applicant is challenging that decision in circuit court.

Some people think “we should hold our decision until the BZA issue is resolved,” Gross said, but “the Federal Communications Act requires us to act in a timely manner on this type of application.” The BZA waived the one-year waiting period for the applicant to refile, she said, and if that happens, “the BZA could reach a different decision.”

“There are few issues that can be more divisive than installation of a cell tower,” said Gross, noting she received many letters and petitions on the proposal, including four lengthy letters from opponents after the public hearing.

There are lots of cell towers in Mason, and all have been subject to “expressions of concern at some time,” Gross said. “In my experience as Mason District supervisor, within weeks of an installation, the concerns vanish, as the cell tower, in whatever variety selected, fades into the periphery as it becomes one more utility relied on by the community.”

The Parklawn proposal “has been particularly thorny for some community members, especially those who live closest to the site,” Gross said. “We heard about the value of maintaining the Parklawn Pool, fear of walking on Holmes Run trail because cell phones won’t work in the case of an emergency, and concern about home resale values, although realtors differ on this issue.”

“The economic benefit to the pool is not a land use issue and should have no bearing on our decision,” she said.

After reviewing statements from the application, Gross said, “I am concerned  that there does not appear to be an alternative site.” According to federal regulations, our ability to deny a particular site “is constrained if there are no other alternative sites available.”

While several speakers at the hearing urged the BoS to consider distributed antenna systems instead of a cell tower, Gross said, “It is my understanding that DAS technology cannot be substituted for cellular service in a stream valley with no existing utility poles.”

She mentioned residents’ concerns that the location of the tower next to the pool roadway and homes would create a safety hazard due to lack of a buffer or safety zone. People who raised those concerns cited codes from other states, which are not applicable here, she said.

Other concerns included the potential collapse of a tower, ice fall, and noise. “While it is impossible to guarantee that nothing will ever happen with a cell tower, the experience we’ve had in Fairfax County during  the past couple of decades does not support these issues as reason for denial,” Gross said.

She noted that the staff report recommended approval after careful review “for conformance with the Comprehensive Plan, location, character and extent, urban forestry, and stormwater management.” The staff report acknowledged “some visual impacts may not be fully mitigated for some surrounding properties and recommended a graduated-paint monopole rather than the originally proposed tree pole or ‘monopine.’”

Gross said she wanted to reconfirm with staff that the pole will be limited to two carriers, noting  “that will reduce some visual impact.” She also said the Federal Communications Commission “will not require a blinking red light at the top, which alleviates some of the concerns we heard in public testimony.”

According to Gross, several speakers suggested the public benefits outweigh the visual impacts “and that we should take into consideration the greater good in making our decision.” She recalled a session she attended in June with the Federal Emergency Management Agency about the need to have a telecommunications system that can manage “surge capacity” in case of a weather disaster or human-caused emergency. “It is imperative that we have additional coverage to connect our community,” she said.

BoS Chair Sharon Bulova said she supported approval of the decision, calling it “a safety issue.”

The only other supervisor who spoke about the cell tower was Linda Smyth (Providence), who suggested the county have ongoing discussions with the telecommunications industry about  better designs for cell facilities rather than just deal with each proposal when it comes up.   

“We need to be working with the industry to come up with other options,” Smyth said. “Their tree poles still look like green bottle brushes. In other parts of the country you can have something that looks more like trees. So why can’t we get some of these things here?”     


  1. This is a good wise decision. 100 years ago there was no utility system populating the landscape. Today, the need for the services provided by these systems (e.g., power, communication, water) is essential, and therefore it is a reality that we need to accept the structures. There is no solid evidence based on comparable sales on record, that houses in the Northern Virginia region suffer statistically significant decrease in value because of the the location of new utility structures. Furthermore, the younger generation moving up and establishing families values very much having strong wireless signals and understand that having cell towers nearby ensure that signal. Buying a house with strong cell reception is a major plus for these families.

  2. great idea, wrong location9/27/13, 3:06 PM

    The reason Penny Gross voted in favor of the cell tower is because she does not give a damn. Linda Smyth did the same thing when she voted in favor of the cell tower on the Holmes Run Acres Recreation Association pool property. Despite the Smyth quote above about the "green bottle brushes," there is not a day that goes by that I don't see that god-awful structure, surrounding equipment, and ugly fencing at HRARA and say "how horrible it still looks." It is not a pine tree It does not fit in to the surrounding environment. I never will.

    I feel extremely sad for the people of Parklawn. Especially the homes which will be forced to look at and deal with the negative consequences of yet another god-awful structure being slammed into their world. Maybe Penny will step up and buy the houses from the folks who can't sell now.

  3. I dont fault Penelope Gross on this, I fault her peers.

    there is no leadership on the Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County. They vote the way the BOS district member votes , this is not an independent board at all and will be called to defend themselves in court to establish that over this vote...but there are many more that they co- inicide and decide the vote in advance. This is an example of one. you rub my back , I'll rub yours ...that is the expression in fairfax BOS. Sharon Bulova you should resign for even entertaining this circus that went on . Penelope Gross is not at fault here...she was always in favor of this cell tower , even though she disregarded her obligations and oaths to vote accordingly to the county by laws , which she violated Article 9.

    it is the other members of the BOS that were cowards and do not hold their oaths of office with much respect... they voted . It is done . Gods will