A standard lease agreement for antennae space on a Berryville Municipal Water Tank has sparked an outcry from the Josephine Street Community and brought opposition from Civic organizations and even the NAACP.
The ever growing dependency on cellular communications has driven providers to expand and shore up existing networks by installing more network nodes. The high ground of municipal water towers presents an excellent opportunity for wireless providers to save money by not having to build a tower, while at the same time providing additional funds to the town through leasing agreements. This type of agreement is already familiar ground in the Town of Berryville. Last year the town renewed a lease with AT&T for antennae space on the tank next to the fairgrounds on the north side of town. Now Verizon has approached the town looking to pen a similar agreement for space on the water tank near Josephine Street. The idea has been discussed at two town council meeting and has been set for public hearing at the upcoming council meeting this week. But the idea that was rolling along smoothly hit a bump when the residents and institutions of Josephine Street became aware of the plans.
Josephine Street dates its origins back to 1871. Originally part of Clermont Plantation, the land was purchased by former slaves and other African-Americans in the area, creating the community of Josephine City, which is now Josephine Street in Berryville. Covering 37 acres, this area contains approximately 20 historic buildings. Today Josephine Street remains the cornerstone of African American life in Berryville. As such the community has responded to what they perceive as a slight by the Town of Berryville for not including them in the discussions surrounding the use of the water tank. The tank that is being considered for lease lies near the end of Josephine Street. It , therefore a constant part of the landscape and the residents believe they should have a say in what the tower and any funds generated from a lease are used for. The town has now received several letters concerning the application for the cellular antennae lease and the residents and institutions of Josephine Street are united against the lease agreement.
To date the town has received communications from:
- Ms. Dee Dee Liggins providing written comments to staff with safety and community concerns.
- Easton McDonald of the Winchester Area NAACP concerning the proposed lease.
- Mark Clarke of the Milton Valley Cemetery Association which is next to the water tank.
- Dorothy Davis of The Clarke County African-American Cultural Center.
All of the contacts with the town present a unified opposition to the installation of cellular antennae on the Josephine Street water tank. Some questioned the health impacts of RF radiation. Others, like Easton McDonald from the NAACP questioned the impact on the community. In his letter to the town he stated:
The Josephine School Museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is in active use as the sole facility commemorating the history of African-Americans in Clarke County. Substantial funds and effort have come from the community, the Town, the County, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and federal tax credits to make the Museum the prize that it is today. Because we cherish our historic neighborhood, we the undersigned oppose the placement of twelve 21st century antennas placed on the Josephine School Water Tower, which is located within sight of the Josephine School Museum. This would mar the historic vista and character of Josephine Street. It would also have a negative impact on neighborhood morale, suggesting that once more, as so many times in the past, Josephine Street is being treated as “less than important and historic” by the larger community. By having a facility which other neighborhoods do not want, the messaging is that the members and historically designated site of this community are somewhat less valuable. The preservation of this historic area for posterity, must be protected.
We ask that the Town of Berryville reconsider the lease agreement with Verizon. We the undersigned are opposed to having those 12 antennas placed on the Josephine Street Water Tower. Therefore, we respectfully ask that you refrain from “any actions” and “such action” that would violate this community expression of concern.
There is also some concern over the funds that will be generated. Ms. Liggins met with Town Manager Keith Dalton and said she thought the funds should go towards a Josephine Street Community Center. Mr. Dalton told Liggins that there have been no discussion of earmarks for the revenue generated from the lease but said it would probably go towards tank maintenance.
Frustrated after her meeting with town officials Josephine street resident Dee Dee Liggins said,”We will never come together as a community because there is no communication with the people.”
The issue is scheduled for Public Hearing Tuesday night at the monthly town Council meeting at the Town/ County Municipal center at 7:00PM.