Albemarle County Planning Commission

January 20, 2004

 

The Albemarle County Planning Commission held a meeting and a public hearing on Tuesday, January 20, 2003 at 6:00 p.m., at the County Office Building, Room 241, Second Floor, 401 McIntire Road, Charlottesville, Virginia. Members attending were William Rieley, Chairman; Rodney Thomas, Vice-Chairman; Bill Edgerton; Calvin Morris; Jo Higgins and Pete Craddock.

 

Other officials present were Wayne Cilimberg, Director of Planning & Community Development; David Benish, Chief of Planning & Community Development; Stephen Waller, Senior Planner; Margaret Doherty, Senior Planner; and Greg Kamptner, Assistant County Attorney.

 

SP-2003-72 Linda Vest – Alltel (Sign #87) - Request for special use permit to allow the construction of a personal wireless facility with a monopole, approximately 73 feet in total height and 5 feet above the height of the tallest tree within 25 feet.  The proposed facility includes flush-mounted panel antennas and ground equipment.  This application is being made in accordance with Section 10.2.2.6 of the Zoning Ordinance which allows for microwave and radio-wave transmission and relay towers in the Rural Areas.   The property, described as Tax Map 109, Parcel 43C, contains 2.16 acres, and is zoned RA Rural Areas.   The proposal is located on Rt. 718 (Murrays Lane), approximately 1 mile north of the intersection of Murrays Lane and Route 29, in the Samuel Miller Magisterial District.   The Comprehensive Plan designates this property as Rural Areas in Rural Area 3.  (Stephen Waller) DEFERRED FROM THE JANUARY 13, 2004 PLANNING COMMISSION MEETING.

 

Mr. Waller stated that the Planning Commission previously reviewed this request on December 2, 2003.  At that original hearing, the Commission had a staff recommendation for denial based on the balloon test that the proposed facility was going to be skylighted. Due to the expected visual impacts that would have been imposed by that facility, staff recommended denial.  At that time the Commission voted to accept the applicant’s request for deferral pending some revisions to the construction plans to address additional staff concerns with the amount of grading and disturbance that was being proposed at the facility. The original application proposed construction of a facility with an 85-foot tall monopole that would have been approximately 879 feet in total height above Mean Sea Level. The applicant has now attempted to address staff’s concerns. The current applicant’s proposal is for the installation of a personal wireless service facility approximately 73 feet in total height, with a top elevation of approximately 868 feet Above Mean Sea Level (Attachment I). The proposed 73-foot tall monopole would be 11 feet shorter in total height as measured above Mean Sea Level than the originally proposed 85-foot tall monopole. The monopole would be equipped with one antenna array consisting of three 6-foot long by 1-foot wide, flush-mounted panel antennas at its top. The applicant has also replaced the 184 square foot ground equipment shelter. In the current proposal the supporting ground equipment would be contained within two 5.5 foot tall by 4.5 foot tall cabinets on an approximately 100 square-foot concrete pad. They have also limited some of the proposed disturbance in the site that would be caused by the ground equipment. The applicant’s also have a revised grading plan for the access road coming into the site, which was actually near two pine trees that were to be preserved at the site.  Based on the amount of disturbance shown now, staff’s recommendations include one condition # 13 that all proposed grading and construction shall be held outside the dripline of the trees that are to remain. Additional methods of tree protection, including but not limited to tree protection fencing, shall be provided for the trees that are identified as numbers 53, 55, 97, 280, 282, 290, 292 and 700 on the tree survey. At the time staff was at the site with the Architectural Review Board’s Design Planner, they identified that those trees were very important and provide the screening of the facility, but some of the grading and disturbance still comes near those trees.  Because the trees are not shown on the plan, staff could not tell where the driplines were located. This request would require that the driplines be protected in the field.  Staff also had a chance to visit a nearby site that lies within a conservation easement, Wingspread Farm.  At the time that the Commission originally reviewed this request staff did not have a statement about the possible impacts upon that conservation easement.  But, staff now has provided photographs to give the Commission an idea of the view from the property called Wingspread, which was in a conservation easement.  It appeared from that point that the balloon had a substantial amount of backdrop.  Staff has also received a follow-up letter from the applicant today that deals with the staff’s recommendation for expanding a tree conservation easement on to adjacent parcels that lie within a 200-foot radius of the parcels of the facility. Part of the applicant’s explanation for argument against that condition was that it appears that the trees that would provide the most substantial screening for the facility are located well within 200 feet of the facility’s site.  In some cases staff noticed where the trees are much farther than 200 feet away from the facility.  Staff then identified specific trees within 200 feet that would provide some additional backdrop or additional screening of the facility. There would be taller trees at ground level that would still be providing a backdrop without even having to go on to that adjacent parcel.  With that, staff recommends approval of this request.  The applicant requests considerations for removing or possibly amending the condition listed as # 18 in the staff report.  That condition states that the applicant shall attain easements upon the portions of all of the adjacent properties that lie within the area designated as a 200-foot radius tree conservation area as required around the facility. Because of the way this site is situated on an incline, staff felt that in this particular case that it could be appropriate to drop that condition and basically keep the conservation area within the bounds of the property. He stated that if there were any other questions, that he would be happy to answer them.

 

Mr. Rieley asked if staff recommends dropping condition # 18.

 

Mr. Waller stated that staff would recommend dropping condition # 18. He stated that in the updated amendments to the Personal Wireless Facility Policy that they have discussed doing it on a case by case basis where they would be able to identify the most important trees that are provided in the camouflage in the grading of this facility. Some of those trees, as they have seen before, were located at facilities that were within 30 feet of the road so that there was not even trees located 200 feet away to every side of the facility. He stated that staff was more inclined in the future to look at this on a case by case basis to try to identify those trees that are really providing the screening.  This would not restrict a property owner from cutting down a dying tree in the future just because it was 180 feet away, but it still was not providing any benefit to the facility.

 

Mr. Rieley stated that the answer was yes, and Mr. Waller agreed.

 

Mr. Thomas asked if there were any other questions for staff.

 

Mr. Edgerton stated that one of the concerns expressed by an adjoining property owner at the previous hearing in December was that the fall zone actually extended into his property.  He pointed out that if he was reading the drawing C-4 correctly that it looked like the fall zone still extended into his property even with the shorter tower. He asked if that concern has been addressed.

 

Mr. Thomas stated that his question would be along the same lines. He noted that on page 2 under petition in the third line down, that the monopole was 73 feet tall.  Then in the next paragraph in the third line down from the bottom of the first paragraph, it states that the monopole was located approximately 73 feet from that boundary line.  He asked if that meant that the 73-foot tall pole would fall on its own land.

 

Mr. Waller stated that if the applicant does not meet the one-to-one tower setback, then they would be required to get the fall zone easement.  He pointed out that since the tower was 73 feet tall and the monopole was 73 feet away from the property line that the fall zone does not extend onto the other property.

 

Mr. Edgerton asked if the tower’s height was 85 feet or 73 feet, and Mr. Waller stated that the tower was 73 feet.

 

Mr. Edgerton pointed out that the drawings still show the tower being 85 feet.

 

Mr. Waller stated that there were two sets of plans provided.  The original set was provided again because they have two new Commissioners and also two new Board members.  He pointed out that the plan that they should look at was Attachment I on pages 9 through 17.

 

Mr. Thomas asked if the pole would fall within its own boundaries, and Mr. Waller agreed that the pole would fall within its own property boundaries.

 

Mr. Rieley stated that the pole was labeled as a wood monopole, but it appears that it was attached to the ground by some bolts.  He asked that it be clearly noted that the monopole was wooden.

 

Mr. Waller stated that the conditions actually address a metal monopole because that was what the original request was, but if the Commission wanted to condition it for a wood monopole that they could.

 

Mr. Edgerton agreed that it should be wood.

 

Ms. Higgins suggested modifying the conditions of approval to reflect a wood monopole.

 

Mr. Thomas asked if there were any further questions for staff. There being none, he opened the public hearing and asked if the applicant wanted to address the Commission.

 

Pete Caramanis, Attorney for Alltel, stated that this request came before the Commission last time with a recommendation for denial based on a few things. The recommendation for denial was based on the fact that the tree that they were relying on was not within 25 feet, the tower was skylighted and a grading concern.  He thanked Mr. Waller for working closely with them.  Since that time they have spent a lot of time working with staff on this application to amend all of those concerns successfully. One of the changes that they have made was reducing the equipment shelter and using cabinets.  Since that time they have moved the tower to a different location to make sure that they were within 25 feet of the tree and that it was also a location that minimizes the visibility of the tower. He pointed out that the tower has been reduced in height to 73 feet, which was actually 5 feet lower, when taking the elevation into account, than the tree that they were relying on. Theoretically, it was 15 feet lower than they would be allowed under the tree top policy.  The grading has been reduced as much as they possibly could, which was done by the use of a retaining wall.  That would allow the applicant to only have to remove two trees that have trunks over 6 inches.  He stated that they felt that was a great accomplishment in the redesign of this and being able to save all but two of the trees.  There was another balloon test done with staff and the Architectural Review Board Design Planner.  During that balloon test it was seen that this tower was minimally visible from the entire surrounding area.  As part of that balloon test they did go to the parcel across Route 29, which was under the conservation easement.  Again, from that location they found that there was quite a bit of screening from existing trees. They also observed that the trees in the front were actually evergreen tress that would provide screening all year. In the back, as staff stated, there was a nice thick backdrop of trees from that angle as well.  It really would not be visible.  In fact, when they were looking for the balloon from that property they only found it after some searching.  After they found the balloon it took a couple of minutes for the landowner to pin point it.  Therefore, the balloon test indicated that the tower would not be visible from the property nor the adjacent property owner’s house. To address some of the questions that came up, he stated that the tower was within the one to one setback and in fact the pole would not cross over property lines should it fall over on its side.  He pointed out that monopoles are designed so that would not happen.  But in the unlikely event that would happen, the monopole would stay within the property boundaries.  He agreed to staff changing the condition that a wood monopole be used.  He stated that he talked with staff about the 200-foot buffer last week and was able to put his thoughts into writing for him, which staff had received this morning.  He pointed out that they had discussed that this area of the parcel was heavily wooded, the area to the south of the parcel did not have any trees and to the north there would be trees over the property line. He pointed out that those trees did not provide any sort of screening or backdrop for this tower. Having the 200-foot radius would require obtaining easements from three adjoining property owners, which needless to say would not be an easy thing to do.  It would really be for no benefit because none of those areas on those parcels are actually providing screening or a backdrop for this facility.  He pointed out that Mr. Waller did agree with that and they recognized that the 200 feet was a standard condition, but it was reviewed on a case by case basis.  Staff agrees that it was not something that would be necessary and that the actual screening of the tower and the backdrop provided could be done within the subject parcel. He pointed out that the tower was 73 feet from both the north and south property lines.  He stated that to the back corner of the property was about 166 feet. He noted that he did not think that the 200-foot was necessary, but that it would be available.  He pointed out that the 200 feet was obviously available on that subject parcel towards the west.  He noted that the 200 feet was mentioned in conditions #14, #17 and #18.  He suggested that they delete condition #18 and revise condition #17 because it was addressed in all three conditions. He pointed out that condition #4 was about the wood pole.  For the benefit of the new Commissioners, he pointed out that this project was for the benefit of Alltel’s larger effort to provide coverage along Route 29 South of Charlottesville where there is no coverage right now.  He stated that this was one of a few applications in that area. He stated that he would be happy to answer any questions that the Commission might have.

 

Mr. Thomas asked if there was anyone else present who would like to address this request.

 

Jeff Werner, representative for Piedmont Environmental Council, stated that he wanted to make sure that he understood the comment about the 200-foot buffer.  He pointed out that there was not only land under easement on the other side of Route 29, but some significant easement activity on this side of Route 29 by some individuals who were putting their money where their mouths were relative to the conservation of Albemarle County.  With that in mind, he asked that the language of the conditions reflect if there were any complexities regarding the 200-foot radius with the adjacent parcels, but he would leave that up to staff’s judgement. He asked that if there were trees on this lot that were within the 200-foot radius that staff makes sure that condition is included.  He asked that staff not exclude the 200-foot buffer in general.  He pointed out that he had received telephone calls from several persons in that area.  He asked that staff make sure that the 200-foot buffer on the property be maintained.

 

Mr. Thomas asked if anyone else was present to speak regarding this request.  There being none, he closed the public hearing to bring the matter back before the Commission for discussion and possible action.

 

Mr. Edgerton stated that he was struggling with the 200-foot buffer issue because that was something that the Commission typically requires.  He noted that obviously it could not be accomplished on the existing parcel and would be a hardship especially since some of the neighbors have already spoken against this project.  He stated that not only would that be a hardship, but also it could be a denial if they required that. He noted that he was struggling with the precedent that they might be setting by saying that because this particular parcel has adequate screening today on site that they don’t have to worry about that 200 feet.  He asked if they were opening themselves up to having more proposals coming in on smaller pieces of land and then the applicant telling us that they could not reasonably get that buffer that they have been requiring all along.  He felt that they would be cutting some of the efforts that they have taken in the past to do that.  Mr. Rieley brought up the question if they took out the 200-foot buffer, then what are they putting back in its place.  He stated that the Commission needs to address that since it looks like 73 or 75 feet was the minimum, but at the same time all of the trees that are provided for screening today may not be there in the future and they might want that 200 feet. 

 

Mr. Cilimberg stated that staff has discussed the condition to make sure that the Commission got all of the 200 feet that was available on the parcel by simply changing the wording of the conditions to say that within 200 feet of the facility on the subject parcel.  That would not cover the areas of the 200 feet that are outside the subject parcel, but it would deal with the question of making sure that you got everything that you could within the parcel.

 

Mr. Rieley stated that it was a good concern that Mr. Edgerton raises.  The Commission’s approach has typically been to look at these on a case by case basis.  He applauded staff’s efforts from last time and this time in looking very critically at this.  Staff recommended denial last time and they had very specific concerns.  The plan brought back addresses those concerns.  The trees outside the subject property are not necessary to provide screening now or in the future.  It does not make a lot of sense for the Commission to impose that on the adjacent parcels if it can be done on the subject parcel.  He felt that the criteria had always been to protect the visibility as much as possible.  He noted that he was not too worried about the precedent because their precedent has always been fair treatment.  There might be situations in which too much is not enough, but that he trusted staff’s judgement in this case.  He stated that if Mr. Waller and the Design Planner did not feel that they needed to go off of the property to get the screening, then he was happy with that.

 

Ms. Higgins concurred with what Mr. Rieley said almost verbatim.  She pointed out that she had one other question because someone had said that an applicant does not usually come to the Commission with this many conditions to fulfill.  The concern was that if the tower was no longer necessary and that a report goes to the Zoning Administrator each year that it was unclear due to technology changes whether the monopole would be needed in the future.  She stated that some sort of good protection was needed so that the tower was not going to sit there as a vacant relic of times past. In question # 24 it was unclear whether the removal of the tower was actually bonded.  The condition states that if the Zoning Administrator determines at any time that surety is required and noted that the time that they would decide about that is before the tower is ever erected.  This implies that it is subsequent to this report.  She asked if that language was on purpose and if it was bonded or not bonded.  She asked for some clarity on that.

 

Mr. Kamptner stated that the language was on purpose.  When this condition was first being developed as part of a particular application the industry was concerned about this being a requirement across the board.  Therefore, it was up to the Zoning Administrator’s determination whether to require a surety.

 

Mr. Cilimberg pointed out that it was in response to the Board of Supervisor’s desire to make sure if there was a case where surety was necessary that the condition would be there.  It is a standard on all applications.  It is unusual to the extent that it is not surety that necessarily gets applied before the tower is erected, and it could theoretically be required at another point in time if the Zoning Administrator felt that was necessary.

 

Mr. Thomas asked if the applicant wanted to make any more comments.  Since there were none, he closed the public hearing to bring the matter back to the Commission for discussion and possible action.

 

Mr. Craddock agreed with the Mr. Thomas and Mr. Rieley since there was 73 feet on each side, 166 feet in the back and then 200 feet in the front.

 

Mr. Rieley stated that it was where the 200-foot radius intersects.

 

Mr. Thomas asked if the Commission needed to discuss how to alter the condition about the 200-foot radius.

 

Mr. Rieley stated that Mr. Cilimberg had proposed some language.

 

Mr. Cilimberg noted that Mr. Waller has actually worked up a couple of changes to the conditions as to what was important to be maintained and what could be removed.  In condition #14 the tree conservation area still needs to be shown on the construction plans. While it might not be the 200-foot radius, they would at least want to say that the tree conservation area should be shown on the construction plan.  In condition #17 at the end of the next to the last sentence, “on the subject parcel” needs to be added.  He pointed out that would cover 200 feet on the subject parcel.  Condition #18 can be removed.  The wording in #4 needs to reference a wooden monopole.  Staff has some standard language for that, which is used in the action letter and when it goes to the Board, if that is what the Commission desires.

 

Mr. Rieley moved for approval of SP-2003-72, Linda Vest – Alltel, subject to the revised recommended conditions in the staff report.

 

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

 

1.                   With the exception of all 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 construction plans entitled, “Alltel- Hardware River Site”, last revised January 8, 2004 and provided herein as Attachment I.  The calculation of pole height shall include any base, foundation or grading that raises the pole above the pre-existing, natural ground elevation.

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 shall not exceed 73 feet above the finished ground level contour of 795 feet, nor shall it exceed a top height of  868 feet, as measured Above Mean Sea Level (AMSL),

4.                   The wooden monopole shall be painted a brown wood color that is consistent with the trees surrounding the site.

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.               Site grading and graveling around the site shall be minimized to only provide the amount of space that will be necessary for placement of the monopole and equipment shelter.

13.               All proposed grading and construction shall be held outside the dripline of trees to remain.  Additional methods of tree protection, including but not be limited to tree protection fencing, shall be provided for the trees that are identified as numbers 53, 55, 97, 280, 282, 290, 292 and 700 on the tree survey.

14.               The tree conservation area shall be shown on the construction plans.

 

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

 

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

16.               Certification by a registered surveyor stating the height of the tallest tree within 25 feet that will used to justify the final height of the monopole shall be provided to the Zoning Administrator. 

17.               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 road 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 facility on the subject parcel.  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.

18.               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:

 

19.               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.

20.               Certification confirming that the grounding rod’s: a) height does not exceed one foot above the monopole; and, b) width does not exceed a diameter of one-inch, shall be provided to the Zoning Administrator.

21.               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:

 

22.               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 monopole and the ground, are associated with each provider.

23.               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.

 

Mr. Morris seconded the motion.

 

The motion carried by a vote of (6:0).

 

Mr. Thomas stated that SP-03-072 would go to the Board of Supervisors with a recommendation for approval and would be heard on February 11th.

 

 

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