STAFF PERSON:                                          Stephen B. Waller, AICP                   

PLANNING COMMISSION:                      AUGUST 24, 2004

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS:                      OCTOBER 13, 2004

 

SP 04-020 Bright, ELIZABETH (AllTEL)

 

Applicant’s Proposal:

 

The applicant proposes the installation of a personal wireless service facility, which would include a metal monopole approximately 100 feet in total height with a top height of approximately 912.5 feet Above Mean Sea Level (Attachment A).  This would result in a monopole that is approximately 6.4 feet taller in height than a nearby 90.5-foot tall tree identified on the applicant’s construction plans as tree number 81.  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 58 - Parcel 61A, containing 5.2 acres zoned RA Rural Areas (Attachment B).  This site is located on the eastern side of Tilman Road (Route 676) approximately 0.25 miles north of Ivy Road (Route 250), and just east of the Glenaire subdivision, in the Samuel Miller Magisterial District.  The Comprehensive Plan designates this property as Rural Areas in Rural Area 3.

 

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 01-008 Bright (Triton PCS) - At its meeting on August 8, 2001, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a request to allow the installation of the existing personal wireless service facility on the subject parcel (Attachment C).  A wood monopole that is 111.5 feet tall in total height (approximately one foot taller than the tallest tree within 25 feet), serves as the mounting structure for this facility.

 

VIO 01-345 Bright, Elizabeth Peyton (Triton  PCS) - On December 21, 2001, the property owner and Triton PCS were cited in violation of conditions of the special use permit SP 01-008.  This violation was based on the fact that the monopole that was installed exceeded the maximum height of 111.5, as well as the maximum diameters of 30 inches at its base and 18 inches at its top.

 

SP 02-004 Bright (Triton PCS) - Triton PCS submitted a special use permit application requesting an amendment of the existing conditions for SP 01-008, which would have allowed the monopole to remain as installed, at 112.7 feet in height and with bottom and top diameters of 39 and 23.5 inches, respectively.   Due to a lack of staff support, this application was withdrawn and the monopole was replaced with a conforming one, allowing the violation to be abated.

 

SP 03-010 SP 02-004 Bright (Triton PCS) - At its meeting on May 7, 2003, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a request to amend the special use permit for the existing Triton facility by allowing the installation of additional ground equipment and the replacement of antennas in support of new digital technology and E-911 services.

 

Character of the Area:

 

The site of the proposed facility is a 500 square foot wooded lease area, situated below and to the west of the ridgeline of Turner Mountain, which peaks at 920 feet above sea level.  The ground level elevation of the lease area is located between the 812 and 813-foot contour intervals.  The proposed site of the monopole for this facility is located in a wooded area on an incline, approximately 280 feet east of Tillman Road [State Route 676].  This site is accessed by way of an existing gravel road that runs parallel with the state right-of-way, providing access to the existing facility.  All of the properties adjacent to this site are zoned Rural Areas.  The nearest property line to the facility site is the boundary shared with Tax Map 58 - Parcel 61 and is approximately 75 feet north of the proposed monopole location.  The nearest dwelling, located approximately 380 feet west of the site is also located on Tax Map 57B - Parcel 38A.

 

With an exception of the clearings for the access road and existing facility, the hillside and area surrounding the facility site are vegetated with a mixture of large, mature trees.  Trees surrounding the lease area and shown on the applicant’s plan submittal have surveyed top heights that range between 863 and 921 feet AMSL.  The 90.5 -foot tall reference tree that is being used as the basis for the requested monopole height is located approximately 10 feet east of the monopole site and has a surveyed top elevation of 906 feet AMSL.  The 111.5-foot tall monopole serving the existing Triton facility is approximately 21 feet south of the proposed monopole site at the 809-foot contour interval.   Situated at 812.5 feet The proposed 100-foot tall monopole, would be approximately 8 feet lower in height AMSL than the existing one.

 

Staff notes that this application was originally submitted with a request to allow a 110-foot tall monopole that would have been located to the west of the currently proposed site.  However, based on the observation of a balloon test at the original location, it was determined that the proposed 110-foot monopole would have had adverse visual impacts upon at least one adjacent property, and would be skylighted when viewed from at least on nearby points on Morgantown Road at a minimum. Therefore, the applicant has relocated the facility and lowered the height of the proposed monopole in order to take advantage of some of the screening and camouflaging that is afforded to the existing facility.  During a second field visit staff observed that neither the existing monopole or a test balloon was visible above the treeline from any of the nearby properties or rights-of-way (Attachment D).  In fact, when viewed from an adjacent parcel on the western side of Tilman Road the brown monopole was barely visible at treetops and the balloon was well below the trees.  When viewed from points south of the site, along Morgantown Road, both the balloon and existing monopole had a significant amount of backdrop, which was very similar to that of the existing monopole.  In some instances, it was even more difficult to identify the location of the balloon with its shiny surface than it was to find the dark brown monopole.   This was most likely due to the fact that it was lower in height (AMSL) than the monopole.

 

 

Comprehensive Plan:

 

Staff notes that this site would be accessed from an existing road and the applicant’s tree survey indicates that only two (2) dead trees will need to be removed to allow the construction of the proposed facility.  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.  Tier I 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 II is comprised of facilities 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 II facility.  The standard conditions of approval for Tier II 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 most critical resources are present throughout the County.  Some of the resources that have been identified as potentially being impacted by this request are mountains, historic sites and forests.

Mountains are designated as major open space systems that provide scenic views, naturally forested areas and wildlife habitat, and are recommended for protection in the Rural Areas.  The proposed facility would be situated at an elevation of 812.5 feet AMSL, and just inside the Mountain Resource Area of Turner’s Mountain which begins 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 minimizing clearing, locating structures to make them unobtrusive in the landscape, and designing structures to blend in with the terrain surrounding the site.  Because this site is located more than 100 feet below the wooded ridgeline, and would not require a significant clearing, it will not be skylighted.    This is very similar to the observation that was made for the previously approved facility at this location, which has a substantial amount of screening and camouflaging.

 

 

Although there are no surveyed historic sites identified on this parcel, staff recognizes that there are several historic sites and structures near this site (Attachment E).   The Historic Preservation Planner reviewed this proposal and observed the first balloon test at 110 feet and does not anticipate that the facility would impose any significant level of negative impact upon the adjacent historic resources.  However, because the balloon was skylighted from certain points on Morgantown Road, the historic resources analysis recommended that the monopole proposed to serve the second facility at this site be reduced in height to limit the possibility for negative impacts upon properties with historic resources located to the south of the site.  It is staff’s opinion that this concern has been addressed through the proposed relocation of the facility and lowering of its monopole.

 

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.  Due to the limited amount of disturbance necessary for the installation of this facility, 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 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,

 

The nearest property line to the facility site is the boundary shared with Tax Map 58 - Parcel 61 and it is approximately 75 feet north of the proposed monopole location.  The applicant has submitted information indicating that the owner of that parcel, who is also the son of the owner of the subject property, intends to grant an easement restricting development within the tower’s “fall-zone”.  This easement will be required to be recorded prior to the issuance of a building permit for the proposed facility.

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 a second facility that is lower in height AMSL in the proposed location (particularly one with a brown monopole) would not impose any significant visual impacts upon the nearby properties and roadways within the district.

 

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 with its revised height and location would blend in well with the natural surroundings as a result of the backdrop provided by Turner Mountain, as well as the camouflaging and screening 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.

 

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 the two dead trees identified as numbers 77 and 83.  The tree conservation report, which is required by the standard conditions of approval, will identify any potential for impacts upon all of the surrounding trees that are to remain.

 

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 of this request would clearly increase the level of wireless services that are available in the Rural Areas.  However, because of the limited potential for adverse impacts, it is staff’s opinion that if it is approved with the recommended conditions, the proposed use could be established 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 with the recommended conditions.

 

Section 5.1.40 of the Zoning Ordinance contains 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 concerns 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.

 

Although the Comprehensive Plan the Zoning Ordinance do not prohibit the provision of personal wireless services, both do implement policies and regulations for the siting and design of personal wireless facilities.  No information has been provided to demonstrate the availability, or lack thereof, of any alternative sites on other properties 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.  However, staff notes that the applicant has willingly relocated the proposed facility to another site within bounds of the parcel to address concerns for visual impacts that were expressed with the original site. 

 

SUMMARY:

 

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

 

1.                  The applicant has worked with staff in choosing this particular site and the proposed monopole height in order to alleviate the concerns for visual impacts that were expressed with the originally submitted proposal;

2.                  A test balloon floated at the proposed height of the monopole was visible well below the ridgeline from parcels located to the south;

3.                  The proposed monopole for this facility would be approximately 8 feet lower in total height AMSL than the existing Triton facility on this property; and,

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

 

 

 

The following factors are relevant to this consideration:

 

1.                  There are several historic properties and structures located near this site;

2.                  Approval of this proposal would introduce the second personal wireless facility on the subject parcel; 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 additions 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 - Turner Mountain Road Site (Bright Property),” last revised on August 9, 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 not exceed seven (7) feet above the top of the tallest tree within twenty-five feet, identified as number 81 on the tree survey (Sheet C7).  In no case shall the pole exceed 100 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 diameter of the monopole shall not exceed 30-1/2 inches at its base, and 15 inches at the top.

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

6.                  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.

7.                  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.

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

9.                  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.

10.              No guy wires shall be permitted.

11.              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.

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

13.              Size specifications and other details, including schematic elevations of the equipment cabinets shall be included in the construction plan package.

14.              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, and all grading and construction activity shall remain outside of the drip lines of the trees that are to remain.

 

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

 

15.              The applicant shall submit a recorded fall zone easement in accordance Section 5.1.40b.

16.              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.

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 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.

18.              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:

 

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 two feet 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 tower 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.

 

ATTACHMENTS:

 

A -       Application, including updated request and conceptual construction plans

B -       Parcel and Location Maps

C -       Special permit approval letter for the existing Triton facility, dated August 15, 2001

D -       Balloon Test Photos

E -       Historic Resources Analysis, dated June 18, 2004

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