STAFF PERSON:                            Stephen B. Waller, AICP               

PLANNING COMMISSION:                   SEPTEMBER 14, 2004

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS:                  OCTOBER 6, 2004

 

SP 04-039 Johnson (Alltel)

 

Applicant’s Proposal:

 

The applicant’s proposal is for the co-location of one new array consisting of three (3) new antennas at approximately 93 feet in height on an existing 150-foot tall lattice tower with additional supporting ground equipment (Attachment A).  The proposed flush-mounted panel antennas are approximately 6 feet in length and11.2 inches in width.  Ground equipment would be installed in three (3) cabinets, within the existing fenced compound. The property, described as Tax Map 94 Parcel 41A1, is zoned RA, Rural Area and EC Entrance Corridor and is located at 4460 Richmond Road (Route 250 East) near Boyd Tavern, just west of the intersection of  Richmond Road [State Route 250] and Three Chopt Road [State Route 794],  in the Scottsville Magisterial District (Attachment B).  The Comprehensive Plan designates this property as Rural Area in Rural Area 4.

 

Petition:

 

The applicant, Alltel Communications, is in the process of expanding its services with 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 97-017 CFW Wireless (Boyd Tavern) - At its meeting on August 20, 1997, the Board of Supervisors granted approval of the special use permit to allow construction of the existing 150-foot tall tower that is subject to this request (Attachment C).

 

Character of the Area:

 

The proposed array of Alltel antennas would be mounted at approximately 93 feet above ground level at their centerline on a tower owned by Crown Communications Company.  The tower proposed for this facility was constructed in 1997 and currently has four (4) existing arrays of panel antennas and one microwave dish that are all attached at heights ranging between 100 feet and 148 feet (Attachment D).  The three highest arrays of existing panel antennas are all attached with mounting brackets that separate them from the tower, while the lowest set is flush-mounted to the tower structure.  In addition to the tower, there are two (2) existing buildings and three cabinets housing ground equipment for the other service providers with facilities at this site.  The tower itself and all of the related ground equipment is located within a compound surrounded by an 6-foot tall chain-link fence in a relatively level field that is adjacent to Interstate Route 64.  Although there are two wooded areas located to the north and south of the lease area, the tower itself is much taller than those trees and can be seen from I-64.

 

This site is accessed from an existing gravel road that extends past the dwelling on the subject property and is approximately 1750 feet north of the westbound lane of Route 250 approximately.  With the exception of the adjacent parcel identified as Tax Map 94 - Parcel 39, which has a split zoning of C-1, Commercial and Rural areas, all of the properties surrounding this site are zoned Rural Areas.  The tower proposed for this co-location is located approximately 180 feet from the boundary line to the north, which is shared with the right-of-way for I-64. 

 

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 conditions.

 

Comprehensive Plan:

 

The concrete pad for the proposed ground equipment cabinets would be constructed within the confines of the fenced lease area and vehicular access would be provided to the site by way of the gravel driveway serving the existing facilities.  Therefore, staff analysis is mainly focused toward reducing the potential for adverse visual impacts that could result from the new array of antennas.  

The Personal Wireless Service Facilities Policy is the component of the Comprehensive Plan that provides specific guidelines for the siting and review of personal wireless service facilities.  This includes the recommendation for utilizing structures that are no taller than the natural tree canopy, and locating structures so that they are not “skylighted” against the horizon, and do not alter ridgelines.  However, because there are no trees that are similar in height to that of the existing tower, the tower is already skylighted from various points of view surrounding the site. Where possible, the Tier I criteria of the Personal Wireless Facilities Policy encourages the utilization of existing structures for the installation of new facilities when antennas can either be concealed within or flush-mounted on the exterior and painted to closely match those structures. 

 

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. The Entrance Corridor overlay district for Route 64 is the only important resource that has been identified as potentially being affected by this application.  The upper half of the tower where the antenna array would be attached is visible from nearby points on I-64.  However, because this proposal would introduce an array of flush-mounted antennas that do not require an increase in tower height, the Architectural Review Board granted administrative authority to the Design Planner to review and approve this proposal at its meeting on August 16.  Therefore, staff’s recommendation includes a condition that would require approval of a Certificate of Appropriateness prior to the issuance of any building permits for 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

 

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,

 

Although the ground equipment at this site is largely screened from most of the adjacent properties and public roadways, the owner of an adjacent parcel to the east (Tax Map 94 - Parcel 39) has expressed concern over the addition of new ground equipment because the existing ground equipment is visible through a clearing in the vegetation that extends toward the boundary line to the east.  Therefore, staffs recommends a condition requiring the installation of a row of evergreen trees near that shared boundary in order to provide additional screening of the fenced lease area.  Because the top half of the tower is already visible from surrounding properties, staff has found no conclusive evidence to indicate that the proposed co-location of flush-mounted antennas would impose any amount 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 as key purposes of the Rural Areas zoning district. Uses allowed by right in the district are either residential, or related to agricultural and forestal activities, while those uses that are allowed by special use permit in the Rural Areas district are most often services supporting by-right activities.  Under current guidelines personal wireless facilities are normally allowed in the Rural Areas when they can meet the criteria for stealth siting and design.  

 

This tower is already outfitted with three arrays of panel antennas that are set off from the face of the tower with mounting brackets, and approval of this request would result in the second flush-mounted array of antennas.  The proposed co-location does not necessitate an increase in tower height, and it is staff’s opinion that the addition of this array of antennas at a point that is lower than the four existing arrays would not have the effect of changing the character of the area.  This is because the existing array of flush-mounted antennas is already a very minor feature on the tower.  Furthermore, were it not for the existing number of antenna arrays that are already attached to the tower, these new flush-mounted antennas could have been installed in accordance with the current Zoning Ordinance regulations for by-right facilities.

 

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 Sections 1.4.4, 1.5 and 1.6, all of which address the provision of public services.  As evidenced by the expanded and rapid increase in use, the provision of personal wireless communications clearly represents a public service.  Section 1.4.3 states that one of the intents of the Ordinance is to, “facilitate the creation of a convenient, attractive and harmonious community.”  Installation of the proposed facilities at this site would increase availability as well as the level of convenience for those who use personal wireless services.  However, staff is aware that those conveniences must also be balanced with concerns for the possible negative impacts that personal wireless service facilities can have upon the goals for creating and maintaining an attractive community. 

 

Whenever telecommunication facilities cannot be designed to stealthily blend in with the existing surroundings, staff has recognized a preference to either co-locate on existing structures and within utility easements or to build new structures in areas where similar facilities are already present.  Both of these practices can be effective for ensuring that new facilities are not located in a manner that results in substantial environmental degradation in addition to imposing significant visual impacts.  Because this proposal represents an opportunity to co-locate on an existing structure with no additional disturbance to the natural surrounding, it is staff’s opinion that this proposal could be approved in compliance with the purpose and intent of the Zoning Ordinance.

                       

with the uses permitted by right in the district,

 

Staff has identified no evidence to demonstrate that the proposed array of antennas would restrict or otherwise adversely affect any of the by-right uses allowed on this site or on any other properties within the RA district.

 

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

 

The Personal Wireless Service Facilities Policy was adopted to provide guidelines for the siting and review of proposals for personal wireless service facilities.  The tower being proposed for this co-location was approved in 1997 with a condition allowing staff approval for the installation of additional antennas, prior to the adoption of the wireless policy.  However, Section 5.1.40c of the Zoning Ordinance now addresses proposals that are allowed by-right, specifically the attachment of flush-mounted antennas to existing structures as recommended under Tier One of the wireless policy.   Under those regulations, the owner of an existing structure is allowed to support the collocation of a maximum of three (3) antenna arrays by right, provided that the final two arrays consist of a combination of flush-mounted panel and/or whip antennas.   A special use permit is required in this particular case because there are already more than three arrays of antennas that were co-located on this structure prior to the adoption of Section 5.1.40. 

 

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 of 1996 addresses issues related to environmental impacts 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 this facility, the applicant is required to comply with the FCC guidelines for radio frequency emissions that are intended to 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 specific policies and regulations for the siting and design of wireless facilities.  In its current state, the existing facilities and their mounting structure all offer adequate support for providing personal wireless communication services.  The applicant has not provided any additional information regarding the availability, or absence of alternative sites that could serve the same areas that would be covered with the proposed antenna additions at this site.  Therefore, staff does not believe that the special use permitting process nor the denial of this application would have the effect of prohibiting or restricting the provision of personal wireless services.

 

SUMMARY

 

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

 

1.                  This proposal represents a co-location opportunity for flush-mounted panel antennas that are anticipated to have minimal visual impacts.

2.                  The proposed antennas would be located at a lower height than all of the existing arrays on the tower.

3.                  The new ground equipment cabinets do not require an expansion of the lease area.

4.                  No clearing or other disturbance is necessary for the placement of the antennas or ground equipment.

 

The following factors are relevant to this consideration:

 

1.                  There are several existing and reasonable uses of this site.

2.                  The existing tower is visible from various roads and properties located near this property.

3.                  The Architectural Review Board has granted the Design Planner with the authority to administratively approve this proposal.

 


 

RECOMMENDED ACTION:

 

Staff recommends approval of the requested special use permit subject to the following conditions:

 

(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, all work shall be done in general accord with that described in the applicant’s request and site construction plans, entitled “Alltel (Keswick II)”, dated June 14, 2004 and provided in this staff report with Attachment A.

 

2.                  The tower shall not be increased in height.

 

3.                  The additional array of panel antennas may be attached only as follows:

a.                   All equipment attached to the tower shall be painted to match the color of the tower.  The cables extending from the ground equipment may remain black.

b.                  The antennas shall be sized as shown on the construction plans.

c.                   In no case shall the distance between the face of the tower structure and the faces of the antennas be more than 12 inches.

 

4.                  The applicant shall install a double staggered row of evergreen trees at a minimum height of five (5) feet at planting and spaced at fifteen (15) feet on center for the purpose of screening the ground equipment.  Those trees shall be planted in a manner that adequately supplements the existing vegetation near the boundary line shared with the property located to the east of the site, identified as Tax Map 94 - Parcel 39.

 

5.                  With the exception of any safety lighting required by Federal Aviation Administration regulations, no lighting shall be permitted for this the facility, 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.

 

6.                  No existing trees within 200 feet of the facility shall be removed for the purpose of installing the proposed antennas or any supporting ground equipment.

 

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

 

 

7.                  Revise the title on the construction plans to include the name of the owner of the subject property.

 

8.                  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, Community Development staff shall review the revised plans to ensure that all appropriate conditions of the special use permit have been addressed.

 

9.                  This facility shall be designed, installed and maintained in accordance with any additional conditions and requirements established by the Design Planner through the issuance of a Certificate of Appropriateness.

 

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

 

10.              The applicant, or any subsequent owners of the building, shall submit a report to the Zoning Administrator by July 1 of each year.  The report shall identify each personal wireless service provider that use the facilities attached to the building, including a drawing indicating which antennas and  equipment are associated with each provider.

 

11.              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.

 

12.              This special use permit must be amended to allow any of the four existing arrays of panel antennas to be:

                        (a)        relocated on the structure;

                        (b)        modified to increase the number or size of panel antennas; or,

(c)        modified to increase the distance of the panel antennas from the structure.

 

ATTACHMENTS:

 

A -       Application and Construction Plans

B -       Tax and Location Maps

C -       Approval Letter for SP 97-17 CFW Wireless (Boyd Tavern), dated September 11, 1997

D -       Photos of the Existing Tower

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