STAFF PERSON: Stephen B. Waller, AICP
PLANNING COMMISSION: JUNE 22, 2004
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS: JULY 14, 2004
The applicant proposes the installation of a personal wireless service facility, which would include a wood monopole, approximately 101 feet in total height, with a top elevation of approximately 1077 feet Above Mean Sea Level (Attachment A). This would result in a monopole that is 10 feet taller in height than a nearby 91-foot tall tree identified on the applicant’s construction plans. The monopole would be equipped with an array of three 8-foot long, 12-inch wide and 7-inch deep flush-mounted panel antennas at the top. Supporting ground equipment would be contained within a 20-foot long by 10-foot wide building on a 288 square foot concrete pad. The lease area for the proposed facility is located on property described as Tax Map 74 - Parcel 17, containing approximately 356.36 acres, and 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.
The applicant, Nextel Partners, is in the process of expanding its services into the area 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 in the Rural Areas.
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.
SP 03-064 Verulam Farm (Omnipoint) - At it’s meeting on January 14, 2004, The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a request to allow the installation of a personal wireless service facility on the subject parcel (Attachment C). When completed, this structure will have a 101-foot tall wood monopole as its mounting structure and three (3) cabinets for ground equipment. Staff notes that the monopole for this facility has not been installed.
Character of the Area:
The site of this proposed facility is located approximately 160 feet north of Interstate Route 64 on a mountain that is approximately 152 feet higher than the right-of-way, near a ridgeline connected with the Ragged Mountains. The site is accessed from an existing logging road that extends from the main access road of the farm and into a heavily wooded area on the incline. All adjacent properties surrounding the subject parcel are zoned Rural Areas (RA), including the parcel directly to the east, which contains the Charlottesville Reservoir. The 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 3000 feet away on property identified as Tax Map 74 - Parcel 17E, which is held in common ownership and was once part of the subject parcel. The 91 foot tall tree that is being used as the basis for the requested monopole height is located approximately 21.7 feet southeast and has a surveyed top elevation of 1,067 feet AMSL.
Because the proposed site of this facility is located at the top of a mountain, there is no area available to provide backdrop for its monopole. However, during a field visit staff observed that an orange 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 D). However, when this site was viewed from locations outside of the property, including points along Interstate 64 and Bloomfield Road, the balloon could only be located after it was first raised to 20 feet above the tallest tree within 25 feet – 10 feet higher than the applicant’s true request. Once the balloon was reduced to the proposed height of the monopole it could be identified among the tops of the trees. This was due to a combination of the topography surrounding the subject parcel and vegetation immediately surrounding the site.
Because the proposed facility would be accessed from the existing logging road that will also serve the previously approved facility, staff does not anticipate that a substantial amount of earth 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 equipment building.
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 be designed to blend in with the natural surroundings in a manner that assists in mitigating 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 extend no more than 10 feet above the tallest tree within 25 feet, and related ground equipment that is also 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 historic structures, mountains, the entrance corridor overlay district for I-64, forests and a conservation easement.
With consideration for the other components of the Comprehensive Plan, the Wireless Policy has also identified various “Avoidance Areas”. These 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 recognizes that the Virginia Department of Historic Resources’ data sharing system identifies various structures on the Verulam Farm property as historic. Additionally, there are also at least three other nearby properties containing historic structures. This includes the Abell House which is located parallel to the subject parcel, on the south side of I-64 on the property currently referred to as “The Rocks”. Although the ridgeline serving as the location of the proposed facility is located within the viewshed for most of these properties, the test balloon could not be seen from the Verulam Mansion. This is due to the presence of several tall trees on the incline west of the ridgeline and the proposed facility site. Furthermore, the balloon could only be located from The Rocks, after it had been raised 10 feet higher than the actual proposal.
At approximately 976 feet above sea level, this site is located within the Mountain Overlay District for the Ragged Mountains, which starts at the 800 foot contour interval. 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 have very limited visibility from locations outside of the boundaries of the subject parcel. This is very similar to the observation that was made for the previously approved facility at this location. Therefore, it is staff’s opinion that a second facility in the proposed location (particularly one with a brown monopole) would not impose any significant visual impacts upon 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 all development within the entrance corridors (Attachment E). Based on this recommendation combined with fact that the test balloon could not be seen at its proposed height while traveling 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.
Part IV of the Open Space Plan, entitled Protection Techniques, suggests several of the mechanisms that can be used to protect open space resources; this includes, but is not limited to, the implementation of conservation or open space easements, and Agricultural and Forestal Districts. The subject property is currently held by the Nature Conservancy under a conservation easement. Although the County of Albemarle is not a party to this easement, staff recognizes that the owner has voluntarily agreed to incorporate various provisions that are set by the parties holding the easements, including restrictions on certain levels of development that can be undertaken. In this particular instance a provision allowing the property owner to lease space for one personal wireless service facility was granted and utilized for the previously approved facility. The applicant, Nextel, is currently the process of renegotiating the easement between the property owner and the Nature Conservancy to allow a second facility on the property.
Staff has reviewed this request for compliance with the provisions of Section 22.214.171.124 of the Zoning Ordinance and recommends approval with the standard conditions of approval and some additional conditions that would be specifically applied to this proposal.
Staff will address the issues of this request in four sections:
1. Section 126.96.36.199 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 188.8.131.52 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,
Staff notes that a concern for the proliferation of multiple wireless facilities within close proximity has been brought forth in the review of past proposals for horizontal co-location of more than one Tier Two wireless facilities on a single property. The proposed monopole facility would be located only 23 feet from the monopole serving the previously approved facility. Because the previously approved Omnipoint facility was not installed at the time of the field visit, there was no way to gauge the expected visual impacts of both facilities. However, staff does recognize that the observation of the balloon test for the current proposal did share some of qualities that were the favorable in the review of the previously approved facility at this site.
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. This is a result of both the location of this site within a wooded area where its mounting structure appears to be similar in height to those of the nearby trees, and its distance from surrounding properties. In fact, due to this site’s isolated location, staff could not see an orange test balloon from many of the nearby roads and properties until it was raised an additional 10 feet above the proposed height of the monopole. It is staff’s opinion that the proposed facility employing a brown monopole at the requested height would be designed and situated so as not be an intrusive feature upon its natural surroundings. Furthermore, the facility would not be of substantial detriment to adjacent properties.
that the character of the district will not be changed thereby,
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 related to the nearby roads and adjacent property line.
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. As with past applications for personal wireless service facilities, the applicant’s request indicates 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, it is staff’s opinion that this schedule of infrequent site visits does not significantly increase traffic within the area.
Whenever requests to allow horizontal co-locations are being reviewed, staff attempts to ensure that the tree conservation plan for any existing facility is not altered to a point where the treeline and canopy providing camouflaging of the mounting structure and ground equipment is not compromised. The required tree conservation plan for the original facility showed that no trees would be removed at this site. Because the site for this facility is located within the same clearing as the approved facility, it still appears that none of the large trees providing camouflaging of the proposed facility would be compromised.
Based on the factors cited above, it is staff’s opinion that the character of the district would not be changed by the approval of the proposed facility.
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 surrounding areas, the guidelines of the Wireless Policy are intended to ensure that the facilities are not responsible for intruding upon the important scenic 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 proven to be incompatible with any of the other agricultural and forestal objectives that are set forth for the Rural Areas.
The introduction of the second wireless facility within the immediate area through the approval this request would clearly increase the level of services that are available in the Rural Areas. However, because of the limited visibility of this site it is also staff’s opinion that if it is approved with the recommended conditions this request could be approved in harmony with the purpose and intent of the Zoning Ordinance.
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 established uses on the subject parcel, or the by-right uses allowed on other properties 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.
Section 5.1.40 of the Zoning Ordinance contains sets 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 could 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.
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 test balloon could not be seen from the right-of-way for I-64, or from any of the other nearby public roads until after it had been raised an additional 20 feet above the tallest tree within 25 feet;
3. The proposed site for this facility is located more than 1700 feet from the nearest adjacent rural property line;
4. This site is accessed by an existing logging road; and,
The following factors are relevant to this consideration:
1. The proposal represents the horizontal co-location of second personal wireless service facility at this site;
2. This site is located within the designated Mountain Overlay District for the Ragged Mountains; and,
3. There are existing and reasonable by-right uses that could be established on the subject property.
Staff has reviewed this request for compliance with the provisions set forth in Section 184.108.40.206 of the Zoning Ordinance and recommends approval with additional 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, “SP 2004-012 - Nextel Partnership/Verulam Farm Conservation Group LLC/Meechum”, last revised May 25, 2004 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 (10) feet above the top of the tallest tree within twenty-five feet. In no case shall the pole exceed 101 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 building, 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. Size specifications and other details, including schematic elevations of the antennas shall be included in the construction plan package.
13. 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 building.
14. Details and cross sections for any future plans to upgrade the existing dirt logging road shall be 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:
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. With the building permit application, the applicant shall submit the final revised set of site plans for construction of the facility. During the review of the application, 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:
18. 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.
19. Certification confirming that the grounding rod’s: a) height does not exceed two feet above the monopole; and, b) width does not exceed a diameter of one-inch, shall be provided to the Zoning Administrator.
20. 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:
21. 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.
22. 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.
A - Special Use Permit Application and Conceptual Construction Plans
B - Parcel and Location
C - Approval letter of December 16, 2003
D - Balloon Test Photos
E - ARB Recommendation
Return to PC actions letter