A cellular telephone monopole antenna special use permit being requested by Verizon Wireless ran into additional problems from the Clarke County Board of Supervisors last night. Two Supervisors said that they were reluctant to approve a zoning buffer waiver for an access road to the proposed tower site and another Supervisor raised questions about who stood to benefit from the improved coverage promised from the tower.
Last night’s public hearing turned out to be informational only as County staff had already informed the Supervisors that Verizon had not yet addressed several outstanding site plan requirements previously raised by the Clarke County Planning Commission. Even so, Verizon’s entire site plan team, including legal counsel, public relations and a road engineer appeared before the Supervisors to once again make a case for approving an access road necessary for the project to move forward.
Three members of the public also attended the meeting including Pastor Karen Adams of Mount Carmel United Methodist Church – located in the eastern part of Clarke County – whose land adjoins property owned by Philip Thomas of Middleburg where the tower site has been proposed.
Verizon is asking the Supervisors to approve moving a nearby monopole tower to a higher location above Mount Carmel Church. However, the plan ran into trouble when church elders and Mr. Thomas were unable to reach an agreement over a right away easement through the Church’s parking lot that would have allowed tower maintenance access for Verizon personnel.
Although Verizon Wireless has repeatedly stated that it expects to use the access road about once a month, Mount Carmel Church members have expressed concerns that Mr. Thomas will use the easement right of way to build two houses on the currently inaccessible land.
When negotiations between Thomas and the church failed to reach a consensus, Verizon developed an alternate plan to build a road directly from Mount Carmel Road to the tower site. But engineering challenges related to the steep terrain associated with the site required that the maintenance road pass within a few feet of the church’s property line.
Clarke County zoning requirements require that a 25-foot vegetative buffer must be preserved between an access road and an adjacent property. At last night’s public hearing Verizon Wireless attempted to persuade the Supervisors and planning staff to grant a variance to the buffer requirement but had little success.
“Verizon will have negligible traffic on the road,” said Verizon attorney David Lasso “Probably one truck per month. The Thomas’s would also be able to use the road.”
“Just to be clear, the property has two dwelling unit rights and the entrance would serve two homes, right,” asked Supervisor David Weiss (Buckmarsh).
“Yes,” responded Clarke County Zoning Administrator Jesse Russell. “The Supervisors have the authority to restrict the road to a particular use if it so chooses. The road is designed to be twelve feet wide. The County’s standard for a driveway is fourteen feet wide.”
Weiss then seemed incredulous that Verizon had not been able to reach an access compromise with the church that would avoid the need to build the road at all.
“Is there any way that Verizon can work with you to get an easement option?” Weiss asked Mount Carmel Church Pastor Karen Adams.
“It wasn’t so bad when just Verizon wanted to come through our parking lot,” Adams replied. “But they wanted a reciprocal agreement that would have allowed traffic from any new houses to go through our parking lot as well. That was the problem.”
Weiss then addressed the Verizon Wireless team.
“I am not very comfortable waiving the 25-foot buffer requirement on this road,” Weiss said.
Supervisor Bev McKay (White Post) supported Weiss’s position and added a new concern.
“I tend to agree with David [Weiss],” McKay said. “I’m also concerned that the road has the potential for 600 trips per month if the land owner puts two houses on it. I’m uncomfortable waiving the buffer on a road that could have 600 trips.”
Supervisor Chairman Michael Hobert (Berryville) and Supervisor Barbara Byrd (Russell) also questioned the value of the increased Verizon coverage to Clarke County citizens. Byrd questioned the relatively narrow increased coverage area that the monopole will deliver primarily along the Route 50 corridor west of the Blue Ridge.
“How many additional Clarke County households will gain service from the new antenna,” Hobert asked.
“Our goal is to provide reliable coverage along Route 50 as it goes into Berryville,” replied Verizon’s Barb Pivec. “We don’t know how many households will gain service.”
“So your priority is to provide service to mobile phone customers travelling through our area?” Hobert replied.
“The monopole will give strong coverage along Route 50 but will also cover houses that happen to be in the coverage area” Pivec replied.
The Supervisors agreed to take no action on the special use permit and continued the public hearing until its next regular meeting in September.