STAFF PERSON:                    Stephen B. Waller, AICP                 

PLANNING COMMISSION:            JULY 27, 2004

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS:           SEPTEMBER 8, 2004

 

SP 04-018 Moyer, Leroy and Helen (AllTEL)

 

Applicant’s Proposal:

 

The applicant proposes the installation of a personal wireless service facility, which would include a metal monopole, approximately 80 feet in total height, with a top height of approximately 524 feet Above Mean Sea Level (Attachment A).  This would result in a monopole that is 10 feet taller in height than a nearby 72-foot tall tree identified on the applicant’s construction plans.  The monopole would be equipped with one array of three 7.9-foot long by 8.1-inch wide, flush-mounted panel antennas at its top.  Supporting ground equipment would be contained within two 5.5-foot tall and 4.5-foot wide cabinets on a 96 square foot concrete pad and a smaller cabinet on a 5 square foot pad.  The lease area for the proposed facility is located on property described as Tax Map 92 Parcel 56B(3), containing 8.98 acres zoned RA Rural Areas and EC, Entrance Corridor Overlay District (Attachment B).   The proposal is located on Thomas Jefferson Parkway (Route 53), approximately 1.3 miles east of the intersection of Thomas Jefferson Parkway and James Monroe Parkway (Route 795), in Scottsville Magisterial District.  The Comprehensive Plan designates this property as Rural Areas in Rural Area 4 of the Comprehensive Plan.

 

Petition:

 

The applicant, Alltel Communications, is in the process of expanding its services with in 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.

 

Planning and Zoning History:

 

SP 00-44 Triton PCS (CVR 361A) - At it’s meeting on January 10, 2001, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a request to allow the installation of a personal wireless service facility on the subject parcel (Attachment C).  A 78-foot tall wood monopole serves as the mounting structure for this facility.

 

SP 03-37 Moyer, Leroy and Helen (Triton PCS) - At it’s meeting on August 13, 2003, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a request to amend the existing special use permit by allowing the installation of additional ground equipment and the replacement of antennas supporting new digital technology and E-911 services.

 

Character of the Area:

 

The proposed site of the monopole for this facility is located in a wooded area approximately 78 feet south of State Route 53.  The site is accessed by way of an existing gravel access road within an easement for the overhead utility lines that run parallel with the state right-of-way.  Another line of trees runs between the easement and Route 53 providing additional camouflaging and screening of the existing facility.  The area where the treeline starts is situated on an bank that is approximately 10 feet above the road at its highest point.

 

The two adjacent properties at the eastern and western and southern boundary lines with this site share common ownership with the subject parcel and are also zoned Rural Areas (RA).  There is a single family dwelling on the parcel to the west and the nearest offsite dwelling is located approximately more than 204 feet to the north on property identified as Tax Map 92 - Parcel 36E.  The 72-foot tall reference tree that is being used as the basis for the requested monopole height is located approximately 19 feet east of the monopole site and has a surveyed top elevation of 513.6 feet AMSL.  The 78-foot monopole serving the existing Triton facility is 21 feet west of the proposed monopole site at the 448-foot contour interval.  This means that the proposed 80-foot tall monopole, situated at 444 feet would be approximately 2 feet lower in total height AMSL.

 

During a field visit staff observed that neither the existing monopole or the test balloon was visible above the treeline from the Route 53 right-of-way (Attachment D).  Staff observed that the monopole was only visible from Route 53 through the trees while standing directly in front of the site.  However, the tallest portion of that monopole was visible, appearing as a minor extension of the tops of the trees, while traveling south on Gobblers Ridge Road toward the intersection with Route 53.  This was due to a combination of the topography adjacent to the road and vegetation immediately surrounding the site.

 

Comprehensive Plan:

 

Because the proposed facility would be accessed by extending an existing road within a utility easement, 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 well 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 sites and the entrance corridor overlay district for Route 53, and forests.

 

Although there are no surveyed historic sites identified on this parcel, staff recognizes that this site is located within the proposed Southern Albemarle Rural Historic District.  Because State Route 53 is the main road connecting several of the nearby surveyed historic properties within the district, the Historic Preservation Planner has reviewed this proposal.  The historic resources analysis concludes that the existing facility does not impose any significant negative impacts upon the district, but also includes general recommendations for assistance in lessening the possible impacts of the second facility at this site (Attachment E). 

 

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 F).  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 Route 53, 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 some additional conditions that would be specifically applied to this 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,

 

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 II wireless facilities on a single property. The site of the proposed facility is in a wooded area surrounded by large trees that would assist in screening and camouflaging views from adjacent properties. The monopole serving this facility would be located only 21 feet from the existing Triton monopole. The previously approved facility is well-screened and the test balloon observation for the proposed facility indicates that the proposed facility would share some of the qualities that are favorable to it. Therefore, it is staff’s opinion that if designed and situated under conditions that are consistent with those for the existing facility, the proposed facility would not be an intrusive feature upon its natural surroundings or impose any substantial detriment to adjacent properties. This includes the installation of a wood monopole, as opposed a metal one.

 

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.  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.  However, support for locating facilities that comply with the recommendations of the Personal Wireless Service Facilities Policy has not been uncommon in the Rural Areas zoning district.  The key purpose of the 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.

 

Once the facility has been constructed and is fully operational, staff does not expect that the schedule of site visits would create a significant increase in activity or traffic within the area.  As with past applications for personal wireless service facilities this would be an unmanned site and the applicant’s request indicates 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 by 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 the 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 tree survey provided in the applicant’s construction plan packet proposes the removal of five trees (identified as numbers 270, 272,275, 277 and 279) ranging in between 22.7 and 40.5 feet in height, but none of these trees are tall enough or have a considerable amount of canopy to provide camouflaging of the existing or proposed facilities.

 

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.

 

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 visible through the trees and below treetop level from Route 53;

2.                  The proposed monopole for this facility would be approximately 2 feet in total height AMSL than the existing Triton facility; and,

3.                  This site would be accessed from the gravel road serving the existing Triton facility.

 

The following factors are relevant to this consideration:

 

1.                  The top of the existing monopole is visible at treetop level from Gobblers Ridge Road;

2.                  This site is located within a proposed historic area; and,

3.                  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 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, “Alltel - Nix Way Site”, dated March 24, 2004 and provided in this staff report 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 ten (10) feet above the top of the tallest tree within twenty-five feet.  In no case shall the pole exceed 80 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.              Size specifications and other details, including schematic elevations of the equipment cabinets 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 cabinets.  Graveling of the total lease area shall not be permitted.

14.              Revise the shape and layout of the lease area and grading to avoid negative impacts to the trees identified as numbers 109,118, 244, 246, 254 and 268.

 

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.

 

ATTACHMENTS:

 

A -       Special Use Permit Application and Conceptual Construction Plans

B -       Parcel and Location Maps

C -       Approval letter for existing Triton facility, dated July 16, 2004

D -       Balloon Test Photos

E -       Historic Resources Analysis, dated May 14, 2004

F-         ARB Recommendation, dated June 25, 2004