Mono-Pine Cell Tower Hits Snag

A proposed Verizon Wireless “mono-pine” cellular telephone tower intended to improve coverage in the Millwood, Virginia area ran into trouble at Friday’s Clarke County Planning Commission meeting when two landowners affected by the project said that the communications carrier had failed to communicate its plans with them.

The proposed tower, designed to appear as a tree from the distance, is intended to replace and upgrade an existing tower located near Mt. Carmel Methodist Church’s cemetery on land owned by Ed and Brenda Van Keuren.

The Van Keuren’s also own the nearby Mountain Lake Campground.

Site of a proposed "mono-pine" cellular tower located near Mt Carmel United Methodist Church in southeastern Clarke County, Virginia - Source: Verizon Wireless (Click to enlarge)

The new tower, if approved, will be located on a higher parcel of land on the opposite side of Mt. Carmel Road and only accessible through Mt. Carmel Methodist Church’s parking lot.

After multiple meetings between Verizon Wireless and County planning officials, as well as a recent visit by several Clarke County Planning Commissioners to review the site, the tower relocation plan appeared to be on its way to an easy approval.

But at today’s Planning Commission meeting, the Van Keuren’s along with Mt. Carmel Methodist Church pastor Karen Adams said that communications with Verizon Wireless seemed to have fallen into a dead zone.

“The only reason we heard about it was by seeing it in the paper” Brenda Van Keuren told the Planning Commissioners on Friday.

As part of the plan to move the tower from the existing site to the new site, Verizon Wireless had previously told the Planning Commissioners that the site improvements at the current tower site would be removed and planted with trees once the cellular tower was relocated. However, the Van Keuren’s say that they have a separate agreement with Verizon Wireless that already covers restoration of the site should Verizon Wireless decide to vacate.

A proposed cellular tower will increase cellphone coverage in and around Millwood, Virginia - Source: Verizon Wireless (Click to enlarge)

However, the Van Keurens say that they haven’t been contacted or consulted by Verizion Wireless at any point during the process.

Pastor Karen Adams told a similar story.

“In order to gain access to the tower Verzion Wireless needs an easement to go through the Mt. Carmel Church parking lot” Adams said. “So far, our District Superintendent hasn’t heard anything about this.”

Verizon Wireless officials present at the meeting didn’t have answers for either of the property owners as to why the lines of communication had failed or for the perplexed Planning Commissioners caught off-guard by the oversight.

“I can’t tell you why this has happened but we will be in contact with everyone before the next meeting” said a Verizon Wireless representative. “I’ll get back to the Planning Commission with an explanation.”

Several Planning Commissioners also expressed surprise about how the Verizon Wireless proposal could have gotten so far without the proposed tower neighbors being consulted.

“This process should be a neighborly kind of thing” said Commissioner Chip Steinmetz (Berryville). “I’m extremely disappointed in you all. At the next meeting I do not want to see people walking in here who will be materially impacted that haven’t been contacted.”

Planning Commission chairman George Ohrstrom directed his comments regarding the oversight to Pastor Adams.

“We are not going to approve anything until you’re comfortable with it” Ohrstrom said.

Viewshed impact of a proposed cellular tower is expected to be minimal due to the tower's tree-like design - Source: Verizon Wireless (Click to enlarge)

The Planning Commission continued the cell tower public hearing to its next regular meeting on April 6th.