STAFF PERSON:                     Stephen B. Waller, AICP                  

PLANNING COMMISSION:            DECEMBER 2, 2003

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS:            JANUARY 14, 2004

 

SP 03-064 Verulam Farm (omnipoint)

 

Applicant’s Proposal:

 

The applicant’s proposal is for the installation of a personal wireless service facility, which would include a wood monopole, approximately 101 feet in total height, and with a top elevation of approximately 1077.3 feet Above Mean Sea Level (Attachment A).  This would result in a monopole that is approximately 10 feet taller in height AMSL elevation than a nearby 91-foot tall tree identified on the applicant’s construction plans at the same base elevation as the proposed facility.  The monopole would be equipped with an array of two 6-foot long, 8-inch wide, flush-mounted panel antennas at the top and supporting ground equipment would be contained within three 4.7-foot tall by 4.3-foot wide cabinets.  The site of the proposed facility is a 750 square-foot lease area on property described as Tax Map 74 - Parcel 17, and containing approximately 356.36 acres, zoned Rural Areas (RA) and Entrance Corridor, in the Samuel Miller Magisterial District (Attachment B).  Access to this site is taken from Bloomfield Road [State Route 677], approximately 3/4-mile from the intersection with Dick Woods Road [State Route 637].  The property lies within the area designated as Rural Area 3 by the Comprehensive Plan.

 

Petition:

 

The applicant, Omnipoint Communications, operating nationally as T-Mobile Communications, is in the process of expanding its service into the region including Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville.  This request is for a special use permit to allow the construction of a personal wireless service facility in accordance with Section 10.2.2.6 of the Zoning Ordinance which allows for radio wave transmission and relay towers and their appurtenances by special use permit.

 

Planning and Zoning History:

 

SP 01-30 Private Equity Golf Club - A special use permit request was filed proposing the development of a private golf course and club house in accordance with Section 10.2.2.4 of the Zoning Ordinance which allows for "swim, golf, tennis or similar athletic facilities." on the subject parcel.  This item was deferred indefinitely on October 2, 2001.

 

Character of the Area:

 

The site of this proposed facility is located approximately 165.9 feet north of Interstate Route 64 on a mountain that is approximately 152 feet higher than the right-of-way and connected with the Ragged Mountains ridgeline.  The site is accessed from an existing logging road that extends from the farm’s main access road and passes through a heavily wooded area.  All of adjacent parcels that surround the subject parcel are zoned Rural Areas (RA), including the parcel directly to the east, which contains the Charlottesville Reservoir.  There nearest dwelling to this site is the Verulam residence, which is approximately 1800 feet away on the same parcel.  The nearest offsite dwelling is located more than 300 feet away on property identified as Tax Map 74 - Parcel 17E, which is held in common ownership and was a part of the subject parcel as recent as a year ago.  The 91 foot tall tree that is being used as the basis for the requested monopole height is located approximately 23.9 feet northwest and situated at the same base elevation as the surveyed site designated for the facility itself (976.3 feet AMSL). 

 

Because the proposed site of this facility is located at the top of a mountain, there is no area available to provide a backdrop for its monopole.  However, during a field visit staff observed that a balloon floated at the height of the proposed monopole was slightly visible at the top of the treeline from a location that is interior to the subject parcel (Attachment C).  Furthermore, when this site was viewed from any locations outside of the property, including points along Bloomfield Road, Dick Woods Road and Interstate 64, the balloon could not be seen.  This is due to a combination of the topography surrounding the subject parcel and vegetation immediately surrounding the site. 

 

Comprehensive Plan:

 

Because the proposed facility would take access from the existing logging road staff does not anticipate that a substantial amount of disturbance will be necessary.  Therefore, this request is being reviewed for compliance with the recommendations of the Comprehensive Plan that mainly focus on the visual impacts that could result from the presence of the facility’s monopole and ground-based equipment in the proposed location.  The Personal Wireless Service Facilities Policy is the component of the Comprehensive Plan that provides specific guidelines for the siting and review of wireless facilities.  Both the Open Space Plan and Chapter 2 of the Comprehensive Plan, entitled Natural Resources and Cultural Assets, provide staff with guidance for managing the County’s natural, scenic and historic resources, and for the preservation and conservation of those resources in order to protect the environment for future use.

 

Personal Wireless Service Facilities Policy:

 

The guidelines set forth in the Personal Wireless Service Facilities Policy are focused largely on reducing the visual impacts of wireless facilities from surrounding properties and roadways.  The Wireless Policy recommends the implementation of a three-tiered approval system to address criteria related to the siting and design of new facilities.  The first tier sets a preference for the development of “stealth” facilities that can either be completely concealed within existing structures, or attached to existing conforming structures.  Tier Two calls for sites that can designed to blend in with the natural surroundings in a manner that mitigates their visual impacts. This proposal qualifies as a Tier Two facility.  The standard conditions of approval for Tier Two wireless facilities require the use of brown, treetop monopoles that are no more than 10 feet above the tallest tree within 25 feet, and related ground equipment that is painted brown.

 

Open Space Plan and Chapter 2:

 

Chapter Two of the Comprehensive Plan, entitled Natural Resources and Cultural Assets, provides guidance for protecting the County’s natural, scenic and historic resources, and sets the goals for preservation and management of those resources and the environment for future use.  The Open Space Plan Concept Map provides an inventory that identifies the areas where the critical resources are present throughout the County.  Some of the resources that have been identified as potentially being impacted by this request are mountains, the entrance corridor overlay district for I-64 and forests.

 

With consideration for the other relevant components of the Comprehensive Plan, the Wireless Policy has also identified various “Avoidance Areas” which are locations where the unwise siting of personal wireless facilities could result in adversely impacting important resources.  The Comprehensive Plan designates mountains as major open space systems that provide scenic views, naturally forested areas and wildlife habitat, and are recommended for protection in the Rural Areas.  Except when strategically sited and designed to minimize visibility and mitigate their impacts upon the natural landscape, personal wireless facilities should not be located within “Avoidance Areas” such as mountains.

 

Staff’s analysis for personal wireless service facilities focuses mainly on the visibility of the site from nearby properties and roadways. The site of the proposed facility is located at approximately 976.3 above sea level and the Mountain Overlay District for the Ragged Mountains starts 800 feet. Chapter 2 of the Comprehensive Plan provides several general standards for protecting mountain resources that are very similar to the goals set forth in the Wireless Policy.  This includes the minimizing clearing, locating structures to make them unobtrusive in the landscape, and designing structures to blend in with the terrain surrounding the site.  Although it is located at the top of a ridge, staff recognizes that the proposed site for this facility is largely level and would not require a significant amount of clearing for installation and access.  The balloon test indicates that the monopole would only appear as a minor feature among the treetops that would only be seen from a location within the boundaries of the subject parcel.  Therefore, it is staff’s opinion that a facility in the proposed location and with a brown monopole would not be visible from the nearby properties and roadways.

 

The intent of the Entrance Corridor Overlay District as stated in the Zoning Ordinance is, in part, “to implement the Comprehensive plan goal of protecting the county’s natural, scenic and historic, architectural and cultural resources, including preservation of natural and scenic resources as the same may serve this purpose,” and, “to protect the County’s attractiveness to tourists and other visitors; to sustain and enhance the economic benefits accruing to the County from tourism.”  The Architectural Review Board addresses the aesthetic impact of all development within the Entrance Corridor Overlay Districts.  The ARB has reviewed this proposal and recommends approval with conditions that are consistent with the design guidelines that are applied to development within the entrance corridor (Attachment D).  Based on this recommendation combined with fact that the test balloon could not be seen while travelling in either direction on I-64, it is staff’s opinion that the proposed facility would not impose any negative visual impacts upon the entrance corridor.

 

The forests surrounding the proposed site of this facility are another resource that is recognized by the Open Space Plan as being present on the subject parcel.  The Open Space Plan identifies forests within Rural Areas as large areas that are contiguous with other forests or farmlands, have the best soils for hard woods, and are not in subdivisions.  When existing structures are not available, the recommendations set forth in the Personal Wireless Service Facilities Policy favor the practice of locating new facilities in forested areas where monopoles and ground equipment can be designed to blend in with the natural surroundings.  This includes the preference for using brown structures that are no taller than the natural tree canopy so that they are not “skylighted” against the horizon or alter the continuity of ridgelines.  Because of the limited amount of disturbance for the installation of this facility, and its distance from property lines, it is staff’s opinion that approval of this proposal would not greatly impact the naturally forested state of the subject parcel, or any of the neighboring properties within the area.

 

RECOMMENDATION

 

Staff has reviewed this request for compliance with the provisions of Section 31.2.4.1 of the Zoning Ordinance and recommends approval with the standard conditions of approval and that addition of some conditions that would be applied specifically to the proposal.

 

STAFF COMMENT:

 

Staff will address the issues of this request in four sections:

 

1.                                          Section 31.2.4.1 of the Zoning Ordinance; and,

2.                                          Section 704 (a)(7)(b)(I)(II) of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

 

1.         Staff will address each provision of Section 31.2.4.1 of the Zoning Ordinance.

 

The Board of Supervisors hereby reserves unto itself the right to issue all special use permits permitted hereunder.  Special use permits for uses as provided in this ordinance may be issued upon a finding by the Board of Supervisors that such use will not be of substantial detriment to adjacent property,

 

The site of this proposed facility is located nearly 166 feet north of the nearest property line, which is shared with the right-of-way for Interstate Rote 64.  The nearest boundary that is shared with other property zoned Rural Areas is more than 1700 feet north of the site and is shared with Tax Map 74 - Parcel 17E access road for the sight and lease areas for the three existing facilities are already cleared of vegetation.  The site of the proposed facility is located on a ridge, within a wooded area surrounded by large trees that would assist in screening and camouflaging views from adjacent properties.  In fact, as a result of this site’s interior location, staff could not see a test balloon from any of the nearby roads and properties, during a field visit.   Therefore, it is staff’s opinion that the proposed facility employing a monopole at the requested height would not be designed and situated so that it would appear to be an intrusive feature upon its natural surroundings.

 

that the character of the district will not be changed thereby,

 

Once the facility has been constructed and is fully operational, staff does not expect that the scheduled site visits would create a significant increase in activity or traffic within the area.  Like the past applicants for the existing facilities of this kind, Omnipoint’s representative has confirmed that the proposed facility would be unmanned and that service personnel would only have to travel to the site once a month for routine maintenance visits.  It is also anticipated that some unscheduled visits will be necessary on occasions when electrical power for the site has been interrupted unexpected occurrences such as adverse weather conditions.  However, staff does not expect this schedule of infrequent site visits to create a significant increase in activity or traffic within the area.

 

The preservation of the agricultural and forestal lands and activities, and conservation of the natural, scenic and historic resources are listed among the stated purposes for the Rural Areas zoning district include.  Uses allowed by right in the in the Rural Areas are residential, and those related to agriculture and forestal activities, while uses allowed by special use permit are most often those that provide services in support of the by-right activities.  Support for locating facilities that comply with the recommendations of the Wireless Policy has not been uncommon in the Rural Areas zoning district.  The key purpose of the County’s Wireless Policy is to site these facilities in locations where there is minimal potential for intrusion upon the naturally existing conditions in surrounding areas.  It appears that the proposed facility in this particular case would blend well into the natural surroundings as a result of the tall trees surrounding the site, and its distance and elevation related to the nearby roads and adjacent property line.

 

and that such use will be in harmony with the purpose and intent of this ordinance,

 

Staff has reviewed this request with consideration for the purpose and intent of the Zoning Ordinance as stated in Section 1.4, and with further reference to Section 1.5.

 

Section 1.4.3 states, “To facilitate the creation of a convenient, attractive and harmonious community,” as an intent of the Ordinance.  As evidenced by the expanded and rapid increase in their use, mobile telephones clearly provide a public service.  The establishment of personal wireless service facilities expands the availability of communications opportunities and convenience for users of wireless phone technology.  In the event of emergencies, access to the increased communication the opportunities provide wireless facilities can be consistent with the accepted principles of public health, safety and general welfare.  Although wireless facilities are not often credited for enhancing the visual appearance of the surrounding areas, the guidelines of the Wireless Policy are intended to ensure that the facilities are not responsible for intruding upon the important resources that promote the attractiveness of the community.

 

Section 1.5 (Relation to Environment) states in part that the “ordinance is designed to treat lands which are similarly situated and environmentally similar in a like manner with reasonable consideration for the existing use, and character of properties, the Comprehensive Plan, the suitability of property for various use…; and preservation of flood plains, the preservation of agricultural and forestal land, the conservation of properties and their values and the encouragement of the most appropriate use of land throughout the County.”  When they are designed and sited properly, personal wireless service facilities have not been demonstrated to produce any conflict with any of the other agricultural and forestal objectives that are set forth for the Rural Areas.

 

            with the uses permitted by right in the district,

 

Aside from restrictions on tree cutting within a certain distance of the facility, approval of this proposal would not act to restrict any of the current uses on the subject parcel, or by-right uses allowed on any other property within the Rural Areas district.

 

with additional regulations provided in Section 5.0 of this ordinance, and with the public health, safety and general welfare.

 

Section 5.1.12a of the Zoning Ordinance contains regulations for locating public utility structures in a manner which “will not endanger the health and safety of workers and/or residents in the community and will not impair or prove detrimental to neighboring properties or the development of the same.” The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) regulations set forth in the Telecommunications act address the most significant concerns for public health and safety regarding personal wireless services.  Staff has attempted to address the concerns for possible impacts upon neighboring properties in the area throughout this staff report and in the recommended conditions.

 

The Zoning Ordinance contains section 5.1.40, which sets the requirements for the submittal, review and approval of applications for personal wireless service facilities.  When these regulations are combined with the recommendations of the Wireless Policy and standard conditions of approval, it is staff’s opinion that this special use permit can be issued in compliance with the provisions that state the concern for the public health, safety and general welfare.

 

2.         Section 704(a)(7)(b)(I)(II) of The Telecommunications Act of 1996:

 

            The regulation of the placement, construction and modification of personal wireless facilities by any state or local government or instrumentality thereof shall not prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the provision of personal wireless services.

 

The Telecommunications Act addresses concerns for environmental effects with the following language, “No state or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the Commissions’ regulations concerning such emissions.”  In order to operate the proposed facility, the applicant is required to meet the FCC guidelines for radio frequency emissions.  These requirements will adequately protect the public health and safety.

 

Neither the Comprehensive Plan nor the Zoning Ordinance prohibits the provision of personal wireless services.  However, both do implement policies and regulations for the siting and design of personal wireless facilities.  The applicant has not provided any information to demonstrate the availability, or lack thereof, of any alternative sites to serve the areas that would be covered by the proposed facility at this site.  Therefore, it is staff’s opinion that the denial of this application would not have the effect of prohibiting the provision of personal wireless communication services.

 

SUMMARY: 

 

Staff has identified the following factors, which are favorable to this request:

 

1.                  A test balloon floated at the proposed height of the monopole was only slightly visible at treetop level from a point located within the parcel boundaries;

2.                  The proposed site for this facility is located more than 1700 feet from the nearest adjacent rural property line;

3.                  The test balloon could not be seen from the right-of-way for I-64, or any of the other nearby public roads;

4.                  This site is accessed by an existing logging road; and,

5.                  The facility would not restrict any of the permitted uses on adjacent properties.

 

The following factors are relevant to this consideration:

 

1.                  This site is located within the designated Mountain Overlay District for the Ragged Mountains; and,

2.                  There are existing and reasonable by-right uses that could be established on the subject property.

 


RECOMMENDED ACTION:

 

Staff has reviewed this request for compliance with the provisions set forth in Section 31.2.4.1 of the Zoning Ordinance and recommends approval with modifications to the standard conditions, as applicable to this request.

 

(In the event that the Board chooses to deny this application staff offers the following comment:

In order to comply with the provisions of the Telecommunication Act, staff requests consensus direction from the Board regarding the basis for denial of the application and instruction to staff to return to the Board with a written decision for the Board’s consideration and action.)

 

Recommended conditions of approval:

 

The facility shall be designed, constructed and maintained as follows:

1.                  With the exception of any minor changes that would be required in order to comply with the conditions listed herein, the facility including the monopole, the ground equipment building, and any antennas shall be sized, located and built as shown on the concept plan entitled, “Crown Communications CAP Operations, LLC (McGuire #2)”, dated July 24, 2003 and provided with Attachment A.

2.                  The calculation of pole height shall include any base, foundation or grading that raises the pole above the pre-existing, natural ground elevation.

3.                  The top of the pole, as measured Above Mean Sea Level (AMSL), shall never exceed seven (7) feet above the top of the tallest tree within twenty-five feet.  In no case shall the pole exceed 98 feet in total height at the time of installation without prior approval of an amendment to this special use permit or personal wireless facility permit.

4.                  The monopole shall be made of wood and be a dark brown natural wood color.

5.                  The ground equipment cabinets, antennas, concrete pad and all equipment attached to the pole shall be the same color as the pole and shall be no larger than the specifications set forth in the application plans.

6.                  Only flush-mounted antennas shall be permitted.  No antennas that project out from the pole beyond the minimum required by the support structure, shall be permitted.  However, in no case shall the distance between the face of the pole and the faces of the antennas be more than 12 inches.

7.                  No satellite or microwave dishes shall be permitted on the monopole.

8.                  No antennas or equipment, with the exception of a grounding rod, not to exceed one-inch in diameter and twelve (12) inches in height, shall be located above the top of the pole.

9.                  No guy wires shall be permitted.

10.              No lighting shall be permitted on the site or on the pole, except as herein provided.  Outdoor lighting shall be limited to periods of maintenance only.  Each outdoor luminaire shall be fully shielded such that all light emitted is projected below a horizontal plane running though the lowest part of the shield or shielding part of the luminaire.  For the purposes of this condition, a luminaire is a complete lighting unit consisting of a lamp or lamps together with the parts designed to distribute the light, to position and protect the lamps, and to connect the lamps to the power supply.

11.              The permittee shall comply with section 5.1.12 of the Zoning Ordinance.  Fencing of the lease area shall not be permitted.

12.              The plans shall be revised so that information identified as APN# on the cover sheet of is labeled as the tax map and parcel number.

13.              The electrical transformer and telephone pedestal shall be located within the confines of the lease area.

14.              The locations and heights of all trees within 50 feet of the facility that are relied upon for screening and camouflaging shall be shown on the plans.

15.              Size specifications and other details, including elevation drawings of the antennas and ground equipment and concrete pad shall be included in the construction plan package.

16.              Site grading and all construction around the facility shall be minimized to only provide the amount of space that will be necessary for placement of the monopole and equipment cabinets.

17.              Details and cross sections for any plans to upgrade the existing dirt logging road shall be provided in the construction plan packet and is subject to review and approval by the County’s Engineering Department

 

Prior to the issuance of a building permit, the following requirements shall be met:

 

18.              Certification by a registered surveyor stating the height of the reference tree that has been used to justify the height of the monopole shall be provided to the Zoning Administrator.

19.              Prior to beginning construction or installation of the pole, the equipment cabinets or vehicular or utility access, an amended tree conservation plan, developed by a certified arborist shall be submitted to the Zoning Administrator for approval.  The plan shall specify tree protection methods and procedures, and identify any existing trees to be removed on the site - both inside and outside the access easement and lease area.  All construction or installation associated with the pole and equipment pad, including necessary access for construction or installation, shall be in accordance with this tree conservation plan.  Except for the tree removal expressly authorized by the Director of Planning and Community Development, the permittee shall not remove existing trees within two hundred (200) feet of the pole and equipment pad.  A special use permit amendment shall be required for any future tree removal within the two hundred-foot buffer, after the installation of the subject facility.

20.              With the building permit application, the applicant shall submit the final revised set of site plans for construction of the facility.  During the application review, Planning staff shall review the revised plans to ensure that all appropriate conditions of the special use permit have been addressed.

 

After the completion of the pole installation and prior to the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy or to any facility operation, the following shall be met:

 

21.              Certification by a registered surveyor stating the height of the pole, measured both in feet above ground level and in elevation above sea-level (ASL) using the benchmarks or reference datum identified in the application shall be provided to the Zoning Administrator.

22.              Certification confirming that the grounding rod: a) height does not exceed two feet above the monpole; and, b) width does not exceed a diameter of one-inch, shall be provided to the Zoning Administrator.

23.              No slopes associated with construction of the facility shall be created that are steeper than 2:1 unless retaining walls, revetments, or other stabilization measures acceptable to the County Engineer are employed.

 

After the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy, the following requirements shall be met:

 

24.              The applicant, or any subsequent owners of the facility, shall submit a report to the Zoning Administrator by July 1 of each year.  The report shall identify each personal wireless service provider that uses the facility, including a drawing indicating which equipment, on both the tower and the ground, are associated with each provider.

25.              All equipment and antennae from any individual personal wireless service provider shall be disassembled and removed from the site within ninety (90) days of the date its use is discontinued.  The entire facility shall be disassembled and removed from the site within ninety (90) days of the date its use for personal wireless service purposes is discontinued. If the Zoning Administrator determines at any time that surety is required to guarantee that the facility will be removed as required, the permittee shall furnish to the Zoning Administrator a certified check, a bond with surety satisfactory to the County, or a letter of credit satisfactory to the County, in an amount sufficient for, and conditioned upon, the removal of the facility.  The type of surety guarantee shall be to the satisfaction of the Zoning Administrator and the County Attorney.

 

ATTACHMENTS:

 

A -       Special Use Permit Application and Conceptual Construction Plans

B -       Parcel and Location Maps

C -       Balloon Test Photos

D -       ARB Recommendation

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