AT&T Morrisonville Application

{div class=”page” title=”Page 2”}{div class=”layoutArea”}{div class=”column”}{span}The subject property being considered for a {/span}{span}125-foot tall Monopole {/span}{span}is located north of Charles Town Pike (Route 9) and {/span}west of Berlin Turnpike (Route 287).{/div}{/div}{/div}

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday denied a proposed AT&T cell tower facility atop the Short Hill Mountain ridgeline during the board’s business meeting.

The motion passed with an 8-1 vote following the Planning Commission’s recommendation to deny the application. Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) opposed the motion, which was made by Supervisor Caleb Kershner (R-Catoctin).

“I put myself in the shoes of the constituents who were there, and the bottom line is I just simply can’t support the proposal given the negative visual impact,” Kershner said.

Umstattd voted against the motion to reject the proposal based public safety concerns. She said she believes the tower would have enhanced communication services.

“From a public safety standpoint, I don’t think there’s any doubt this will improve public safety in this area,” Umstattd said prior to the vote.

On July 20, supervisors agreed to hold a hearing after they were unable to determine whether the commission permit should be granted or denied without a full opportunity to consider whether the application complies with the plan.

In June 2020, AT&T Mid-Atlantic announced its plans to construct a 125-foot cell tower on Short Hill Mountain aimed at addressing the need for improved wireless coverage for residents, businesses and public safety members.

The property under consideration for the monopole is located north of Charles Town Pike (Route 9) and west of Berlin Turnpike (Route 287). The AT&T-owned land would have included a 50-foot-by-50-foot compound with a 125-foot-tall monopole surrounded by a 6-foot fence.

AT&T’s application was submitted in conjunction with a special exception permit to allow a monopole in the Agricultural Rural-1 zoning district and a Minor Special Exception to modify Zoning Ordinance criteria to allow a Monopole on top of the Short Hill Mountain ridgeline.

The Planning Commission voted 6-3 to deny the Commission Permit application and forward the special exception request to the board for denial.

The proposed location of a monopole on top of the Short Hill Mountain ridgeline runs counter to the policies of the Loudoun County 2019 General Plan and Strategic Land Use Plan for Telecommunications Facilities that call for monopoles to be located on the downslope of the ridgeline, according to the commission’s list of findings for denial.

Additionally, the proposed monopole may have visual impact on the surrounding properties and views of the Short Hill Mountain which conflict with 2019 GP policies that call for the protection of the environmental and scenic qualities of the county’s prime viewsheds.“I didn’t see the overwhelming evidence in this case to overturn decades of our fairly consistent land use planning on this topic,” Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) said.

“There’s no doubt there would have been some benefit,” he said. “I think there probably would have been some public safety benefit to it, but I don’t think based on what we’ve heard from the public who all live there, and are part of the community, that we really have that degree of crisis.”

The proposed monopole does not meet the Zoning Ordinance requirements for a Special Exception, the list stated.

The height of the monopole was reduced from a previous proposal of 155 feet to 125 feet in response to feedback from the neighboring community, company officials told the Times-Mirror last year.

AT&T representatives noted the new equipment would have been smaller than the transmission dishes that were at the utility substation for more than 50 years.

The proposed site would have at least two co-location opportunities, allowing other wireless carriers to add coverage to the area.

The site, according to company officials, would have also enhanced voice and mobile broadband coverage for customers and prepare for emerging technology such as 5G, which is “significantly faster and more capable than today’s networks.”

Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) said two considerations she was weighing with the application was that of emergency response and coverage issues. But when it came time to vote, Randall said she did not hear any such concerns.

“To make a permanent environmental change for a short term technological issue — when you have technological advances that are happening every five, 10, 15 years with huge advances — I’m not going to do anything that is environmentally harmful for a short-term technological gain,” Randall said.

Residents and community groups in the area spoke for and against the application, including the Coalition of Loudoun Town Mayors (COLT,) which was opposed to the project.

AT&T’s Short Hill property has been the subject of heavy scrutiny and controversy in recent years.

In 2016, the company sought to build a 3.5-acre facility atop Short Hill Mountain. The 160,000-square-foot, above-ground facility was proposed to be constructed on top of AT&T’s already-existing underground facility.

For months the community pressed the county and AT&T for answers about the proposal, a project many speculated to be a data center or federal facility. The community pressure led AT&T to withdraw its application, and the Board of Supervisors voted to overturn the commission permit it sought on June 23, 2016.

The company’s 155-foot monopole proposal in 2018 also generated community opposition.

County staff said the last monopole that was approved was in the 1990’s.

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