Cell Tower Request Approved Over Objections From Church

On Friday the Clarke County Planning Commission approved a special use permit request by Verizon Wireless to relocate a cellular antenna tower from its current location off Mount Carmel Road to a higher location near historic Mount Carmel United Methodist Church. The special use request now goes before the Clarke County Board of Supervisors where, if approved, the tower will mean better cellular service for Verizon customers. However, church representatives say that they have spent thousands of dollars in unnecessary lawyer fees and want Verizon to cover the bill.

Expanded Verizon Wireless coverage area if a tower relocation request is approved by the Clarke County Board of Supervisors – map courtesy Verizon Wireless

“Jesus tells his disciples ‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as a shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves’,” Mount Carmel United Methodist Church pastor Karen Adams told the Clarke County Planning Commission prior to the Commission’s vote to approve the special use permit on Friday. “Mount Carmel sets on .623 acres, a very small plot of ground, and we do try keep our grounds as clean and neat as possible. Ministry takes place both inside the building and outside on the grounds as we fellowship during fundraisers. Mount Carmel operates on a very small budget, most of the time it is from month to month, which is why we do so many fund raisers.”

Adams said that the uninvited arrival of many different cellular tower relocation proposals over the last year, all targeted on using the church’s small amount of acreage, have kept the small community of Mount Carmel anxious and confused.

“Mount Carmel has had to hire a lawyer to protect our interests,” Adams said. “We have had deeds researched, papers pulled, and more meetings than we care to think about. In short we have been mislead repeatedly, spent money we really don’t have, plus all the tension and anxiety the congregation has felt.”

“This project was promised as a ‘win-win’ situation for all concerned but, the only win-win was for Verizon and Phil Thomas” Adams said.

Mr. Thomas currently owns the land surrounding the two-century-old Mount Carmel United Methodist Church property. Thomas, who owns Thomas and Talbot Real Estate in Middleburg, Virginia, will receive financial compensation from Verizon for the placement of the cellular tower on his property above the church, however, the financial terms of the agreement between Thomas and Verizon have not been disclosed.

Current Verizon Wireless coverage near Millwood, Virginia – map courtesy Verizon Wireless

On Friday, after months of discussion, the Planning Commissioners finally approved Verizon’s special use permit over the objections of the church. The approval includes the development of a new road on Mr. Thomas’s property to access the tower. Verizon representatives told the Planning Commissioners that the road will pass within three feet of the church’s property with no room to place a vegetative buffer between the church and the road.

However, Verizon did offer to place the vegetative buffer on church property if Mount Carmel United Methodist Church agreed.

Clarke County zoning requirements call for a minimum twenty five feet of clearance between a new road and any adjoining property. A mandatory vegetative buffer is also required. Approval of Verizon’s request for a variance to the buffer was based on the steep terrain and a large rock outcrop directly in the path of the proposed road.

“The lack of the buffer zone will impact us,” Adams told the Planning Commissioners. “If I were sitting where you are I would say ‘No’ to this proposal.”

In approving the special use permit the Planning Commissioners added requirements that Verizon work with the church to address the visual impact of the road from church property, address construction concerns raised by the County’s consulting engineer, Chester Engineering, and preclude any road construction work from taking place on Sunday.

After the meeting Adams said that she felt like the church had very little leverage to use in protecting its interested due to the powerful parties involved in pushing the tower relocation forward.

“Mount Carmel is the weak and poor fighting the wolves at our door; we have had to be shrewd and yet remain true to our faith statement ‘To be for ourselves and the world who Jesus called us to be’” Adams said. “We stand firm – no reciprocal agreement, a monetary sum to cover our expenses and peace to continue our ministry on the mountain.”

Planning Commissioner Jon Turkel (Millwood) voted against approval of the special use permit. Planning Commissioner Scott Kreider (Buckmarsh) was absent from Friday’s meeting.



  1. Methinks the reverend protests too much. The service road to the tower, once it’s built, will be used sparingly, at best. They won’t be blasting, so that damage won’t occur to the church. Verizon has offered to plant some trees on the church’s property as a compromise on the vegetative setback. They won’t work on Sundays

    The simple fact is that the church’s land is surrounded by land owned by Mr. Thomas. It seems that Rev. Adams and the church perhaps need to step back a bit and re-think their complaints.

  2. I agree with any choice the church makes. Truthfully there would be a lot of traffic until the tower would be up and running. The tower is fine were it is at now. If you do not have cell service there in that area get over it. Change carriers. The church is historical and should remain that way. The “fake” tree near the graveyard is enough.

  3. Clarke County Annie says:

    28.310 acres owned by Thomas.
    .623 acre Mt. Carmel Church surrounded by Thomas.
    Thomas with an annual capital gain of thousands.
    Mt. Carmel Church has attorney fees.

    So Jesse Russell and the Planning Commission are fine with this variance of the county’s requirement of a twenty-five feet of clearance to just three feet and the vegetative buffer could be placed on the church’s tiny parcel.

    I bet this would never happen anyplace else in Clarke County.

    So much for any respect of the wonderful historic Mt. Carmel Church!

  4. Right Winger says:

    I find it rather amusing that a certain persona has said nothing about Mr. Thomas’ rights as a property owner in this issue. Methinks it’s because he’s too busy arguing with himself over politics.

  5. Realistic Joe says:

    In my opinion, this is just another example of money and power vs. the little guy. And we see who is losing.

    Hope the BOS send it back as there has to be another way to access the proposed tower site within 28 acres

    In the report there was no mention of restrictions for this “road”.
    Would think the PC would ensure for the future that if this tower site also failed, the road is required to be closed at owner/renter expense and proper closure plan by DOF is followed. Since a variance was required for this specific purpose the road cannot be utilized for any other access.

  6. What a shame the PC would make such a decision against this historic church and congregation.

    So who on the Planning Comm. has lousy cell service?
    Big deal. Mine drops out all over Clarke but I don’t demand exception.

  7. Bob Brawley says:

    Yea I never could figure that out.. Lets not have any cell towers so our cell phones won’t work. I mean you got ugly telephone poles right outside your house and big cables swooping down and up again does that effect your home value . A cell tower a quarter of a mile away is not even visible through all the trees in your back yard . Cut the trees down so you have something to complain about. Well I don’t mean you . I mean the complainer.

  8. I side with the Church and Miss Karen. Cell Phones for the most part are nothing more than a nuisance. The cell phone seems to cause as many problems as they solve. Leave the tower where it is.
    If better service is provided someone in the mountain may hit a tree while texting and driving on that old winding road.