Cellphone Tower Relocation Still On Hold

Relocation of a proposed Verizon monopole antenna along Mt. Carmel Road in eastern Clarke County, Virginia hit another bump today as the telecommunication firm’s difficulties in obtaining consensus with local landowners continued. Verizon says that moving its existing tower to a new site higher on the ridge is necessary in order to improve cell signal service along Route 50 east of Millwood, Virginia. However, a local church that holds easement rights to an abandoned logging road being proposed to access the new tower site says that it still has concerns about Verizon’s plan.

Access and easements have continue to cause problems for a Verzion Wireless special use permit. (click to enlarge)

On Friday the Clarke County Planning Commission resumed consideration of Verizon’s special use permit request to relocate the existing cellphone tower located on the west side of Mt. Carmel Road near the intersection of US Route 50. Verizon representative Dave Lasso told the Commissioners that radio wave propagation testing had determined that the existing cell tower is not high enough for the signal to clear a nearby ridge and also apologized for missteps prior to the Planning Commission’s previous meeting that caused landowners affected by the proposal to state that they were in the dark about Verizon’s plans.

“The current cell tower site is too low,” said Lasso. “We were working thru the issues with the church and thought that we were further along than that. I believe that we now have an excellent opportunity to move forward as well as to help the church out a little bit.”

Verizon hopes to relocate the cell tower to a nearby site with higher elevation on land owned by Phillip Thomas of Middleburg. However, the proposed access route to the new site would require an easement right-of-way through the Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church parking lot.

But in a new twist to the cell tower saga, Verizon revealed today that the church’s property is actually landlocked and that a small strip of land used by the church to access to Mt. Carmel Road is actually owned by Thomas.

With Thomas in attendance at today’s meeting, Verizon told the Planning Commissioners that it is willing to pay for the title and legal expenses associated with providing the church with a permanent easement to the road from Thomas. In exchange, Verizon wants an easement through the church’s parking lot in order to access the logging road leading to the tower site.

But Mt. Carmel’s pastor, Karen Adams, says that Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church trustees have already voted twice to reject Verizon’s proposals.

“We don’t understand why Verizon isn’t able to accept ‘No’ for an answer,” Adams said after the meeting.

Adams said that although she and the church trustees continue to keep an open mind to the Verizon proposal, their primary concern is to do what is best for its congregation and the historic church building which sits on land parceled from a 17th century land grant through Lady Culpeper to Lord Fairfax. Lord Fairfax is said to have dispatched a young surveyor named George Washington to plat the ten acres that would later become home to Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church.

The church was built sometime around 1765.

Adams said that church members are concerned about increased traffic through its parking lot if the easement were granted.

However, Verizon’s Lasso said that vehicular access to the site would be minimal.

“We expect just a few visits a year to the site,” Lasso said. “Other than that there would be no traffic associated with operation of the telecommunications tower.”

The Planning Commission agreed to continue consideration of Verizon’s special use permit until its next regularly scheduled meeting on May 4th.

Comments

  1. Clarke County Annie says:

    This is very interesting.

    Does the wording in Mr. Leonard’s report plays a key part on this situation as in “a local church that holds easement rights to an abandoned logging road” and “the church’s property is actually landlocked”.

    Abandoned logging road is just that – abandoned. The mountain is full of old logging roads. If not used in years, this road is a dead issue. Also, if logging has not occurred in years, these old roads may not have utilized a proper forestry plan to maintain proper water flow, etc.. Easier access and less cost for a new road to be installed? More than likely.

    As for the church’s property (including the grave yard across the road) being landlocked, they have a “prescriptive easement”. This church goes back to 1765 and has been utilized on a constant basis.

    In the March 2, 2012 report by Ed Leonard, “The new tower, if approved, will be located on a higher parcel of land on the opposite side of Mr. Carmel Road and only accessible through Mt. Carmel Methodist Church’s parking lot”.

    I do not agree.

    Using topography of that area, I feel Verizon is trying the easy and cheaper way out by not installing a new and longer roadway to the new facility location. Or perhaps, Thomas does not want a new longer road.

    Could negotiations still be open?
    Would Thomas convey a little land by a property line adjustment to Mt. Carmel church allowing a more reasonable parking area and with road frontage not requiring prescriptive easement with Verizon paying those related costs? For Thomas, this would be a generous offering and is tax deductible.

    If Mt. Carmel church does not receive any benefit, I hope they hold their ground.

    • Wagonman says:

      Mr. Lasso’s quote is “I believe that we now have an excellent opportunity to move forward as well as to HELP THE CHURCH OUT A LITTLE BIT.” How could “several” visits to the site a year be a problem??? The county surely needs better coverage in that area. Maybe Mr. Thomas should allow them to bypass the church altogether, then they wouldn’t have to be compensated at all.

  2. Sunshine says:

    Verizon is willing to pay for title and legal expenses providing the church a “permanent easement to the road” from Thomas. Cost of creating such a document and recording would be no more than $350.
    I agree with CCAnnie, the church has a prescriptive easement and Verizon’s expenditure for this document is definitely a very “little bit”.

    Previous involvement in a tower transaction (10 yrs ago) the yearly payment to that landowner was $16K with a 10% increase annually for a 25 year lease. A current tower location I’m sure is far more lucrative. Weekly inspections to the site were expected except during power outages then they would visit daily to fill the generator.

    It would be advantageous for Thomas to request a meeting with the pastor or trustees and negotiate a reasonable arrangement as Thomas has an acute investment potential on the property. It’s not like the church is an undesirable neighbor and residents would benefit with improved cell service.

    The church trustees must have sound reasons for saying “No”. Therefore, I don’t think they would be disappointed if Mr. Thomas agreed to bypass them altogether or even a “little bit”.