Albemarle County Planning Commission
November 9, 2004
The Albemarle County Planning Commission held a meeting and public hearing on Tuesday, November 9, 2004 at 6:00 p.m., at the County Office Building, Room 241, Second Floor, 401 McIntire Road, Charlottesville, Virginia. Members attending were William Rieley; Rodney Thomas, Chairman; Bill Edgerton; Cal Morris; Marcia Joseph; Jo Higgins and Pete Craddock, Vice-Chairman. Absent was David J. Neuman, FAIA, Architect for University of Virginia (non-voting).
Other officials present were Wayne Cilimberg, Director of Planning & Community Development; Stephen Waller, Senior Planner; Rebecca Ragsdale, Planner; Mark Graham, Director of Community Development; Yadira Amarante, Senior Planner; Amelia McCulley, Division Director of Zoning & Current Development; Allan Schuck, Engineer; and Greg Kamptner, Assistant County Attorney.
Call to Order and Establish Quorum:
Mr. Thomas called the regular meeting to order at 6:00 p.m. and established a quorum.
SDP 2004-00095 Arrowhead/Ntelos: Request for approval of a Tier II personal wireless service facility to replace an existing treetop facility that was approved originally as SP 98-09. The applicant proposes to construct a monopole that would be approximately 107 feet tall (10 feet ASL above the height of the tallest tree within 25 feet), with ground equipment in cabinets placed on a 160 square foot concrete pad. This application is being made in accordance with Section 10.1.22 of the Zoning Ordinance, which allows for Tier II wireless facilities by right in the Rural Areas. The property, described as Tax Map 88 - Parcel 26, contains approximately 71.34 acres zoned Rural Areas and Entrance Corridor. This site is located on Arrowhead Valley Road (State Route 745) just east of U.S. Route. 29 South, in the Samuel Miller Magisterial District. The Comprehensive Plan designation for this property is Rural Areas 4. (Stephen Waller)
Stephen Waller summarized the staff report. He reviewed the request for compliance with the new requirements that are set forth in Section 5.1.40 for application for a Tier II Personal Wireless Service Facility. Staff has found that the request meets all of the new requirements as far as meeting the application criteria. However, during the field visit staff observed the balloon test and identified the following issues that may be unfavorable to this request.
1. Section 5.1.40(d)(2): The monopole would be skylighted from at least one vantage point near the site, and;
2. Section 5.1.40(d)(2): The site does not offer adequate opportunities for screening a monopole at the proposed height and location.
That first issue comes from Section 5.1.40(d) (2). Staff observed the balloon test from a point on Arrowhead Valley Road and noticed that from at least one view the monopole, based on the balloon test, would be skylighted. That particular vantage point can be found on page 48 of the staff report. There is an arrow which points out the balloon. At the time staff did the balloon test there was also a balloon being flown for a Nextel facility which ended up having to be moved because it was too close to an adjacent property line. The Planning Commission will also be seeing that request in the future as a Tier II request.
The second issue that staff found that may be unfavorable to this request is that, in staff’s opinion, the site did not offer adequate opportunities for the screening of the monopole at the proposed height and location. Looking at the photos one can see that the backdrop that was being relied upon is to the distance and goes along the ridge line of Dudley Mountain Road. There is actually a stream between this site and that area where those trees are providing the backdrop. Under the requirements of Section 4.1.40(d)(2), the ordinance requires that the screening and camouflaging be provided on site. If you are looking at the tower site itself in comparison to that ridge line, and if you look at the topo map, you will see that there is nearly a 400 foot distance from the site itself to a point where the backdrop would be provided based on the incline of the mountain. That was part of how staff came to that conclusion.
In the event that the Planning Commission chooses to deny this application staff offers the following comment:
In order to comply with the provisions of the Telecommunication Act and with Section 5.1.40(d) of the Zoning Ordinance, the Planning Commission is required to provide the applicant with a statement regarding the basis for denial and all items that will have to be addressed to satisfy each requirement that have not been met.
If the Planning Commission feels that the site needs to be adjusted or if the height that the applicant has requested for 10 feet above the tallest tree is too tall, then those are some of the things that the Commission can consider in coming to their conclusion. The applicant is requesting a height of 10 feet, which is the maximum allowed by right as a Tier II facility. But, in order to go from 7 to 10 feet it also requires a separate action from the Planning Commission for that allowance. If the Commission has any questions, he would be happy to answer them.
Mr. Thomas asked if there were any questions for staff.
Mr. Rieley stated that there were a couple of other towers existing on this site. He asked which material was being used for the existing monopoles.
Mr. Waller stated that there were two existing wooden facilities on the site. When this policy went before the Board of Supervisors there was discussion of whether or not the County would set a preference for wood poles over metal monopoles. Based on some of the concerns that were brought forth by some of the representatives from the wireless industry, the Board approved the final version of the ZTA and set no preference for the different types of materials.
Mr. Craddock asked if this proposed monopole would be replacing an existing structure.
Mr. Waller stated that it would be replacing an existing structure.
Mr. Craddock asked if the monopole in the picture was the one that would be replaced.
Mr. Waller stated that it was not the monopole that would be replaced. The picture was of the second facility that was built on that site, which had a height of 93 feet. Staff was unable to find a photograph of the monopole that would be replaced. He pointed out that the applicant probably had some problems with getting coverage from the existing site.
Ms. Joseph asked if the existing monopole closest to Arrowhead Valley Road is the one that is going away, which was being replaced by the one that was further away from Arrowhead Road.
Mr. Waller stated that was correct.
Ms. Joseph stated that the new location would be climbing up a hill.
Mr. Waller stated that it was correct that the new monopole would be going on a higher elevation and would also be a taller tower as well.
Mr. Edgerton asked why the Ntelos monopole was also shown on the photograph.
Mr. Waller stated that both Ntelos and Nextel have been pretty cooperative with one another. But, they were not willing to meet with staff on the first balloon test on the Nextel site and the only balloon test for the Ntelos site. Both field teams coordinated the balloon test and rode around with staff taking photographs at the same time. Staff also requested that they exchange information to show each carrier’s newly proposed site on one set of plans so that when the Commission looks at this they could see how the future Nextel site will relate to the location of those existing facilities and to the one that is being proposed. Nextel has provided the Commission with the proposed location of the Ntelos site as well.
Mr. Edgerton asked if the Commission was just talking about the Ntelos site tonight. He pointed out that for the record that he wanted to make sure that there was no confusion about that.
Mr. Waller stated that was correct.
There being no further questions for staff, Mr. Thomas opened up the public hearing and invited the applicant to address the Commission.
Valerie Long, representative for Ntelos, stated that Ms. Debbie Balzer, who was the acquisition manager for this part of the state, was present to answer any questions. To clarify Mr. Craddock’s question, she stated that this facility, if approved, would replace the existing Ntelos facility on this property. The facility there is one of the first tree top poles that was built in the County and they have determined that it literally does not work. It is too low to the ground. It is in the trees. Its signal is blocked by a mountain further up the road. That is why after extensive field research, engineering reviews and studies of the properties that they have finally determined this need. Right now the monopole is not as tall as it is permitted to be. The monopole is permitted to be 6 feet above the tallest tree. They determined that if they raised the monopole to that height or even higher that it would still not work. They really need the monopole to be higher up on the property on a higher elevation in order to get around the ridge that is in the way in order to have effective service. She stated that there was one clarification that she would like to make, which she felt Mr. Waller would concur with, since there was one minor typo in this staff report. In discussing the fact that some of the adjacent parcels are under conservation easement, there was an indication that staff had determined that the proposed facility would be visible from the resources protected by those conservation easements. Mr. Waller has confirmed that he intended that to say the monopole would not be visible from those protected resources.
Mr. Waller stated that was correct.
Ms. Long pointed out that she just wanted to clarify that because she felt it was an important issue.
Mr. Waller pointed out that was located on page 3 of the staff report.
Ms. Long stated that this facility does comply in all respects with the County’s new Wireless Ordinance in terms of design, location, etc. The property is heavily wooded. The lease area is approximately 1,140 feet from Route 29. Its location on the side of the hill provides a wooded backdrop behind the pole from all locations viewed along Route 29. During the original balloon test she was not involved in the process. Ntelos conducted a balloon test for her benefit a few weeks later so that she could view the test as well. She stated that they drove up and down Route 29 many, many times. There are only two places where it is visible at all from Route 29. It is visible at one-tenths of a mile in each direction. In each of those two points there is a lot of wooded backdrop behind the pole. In the staff report, the Commission received copies of their photo simulations. These pictures were taken from the only two vantage points where this facility will be visible from Route 29. She stated that they are also comfortable based on comments of some of the neighbors near by that it is not visible from their property. The staff report also includes a picture that shows the two balloons skylighted. She stated that she did not see this picture because she was not there that day. But, the picture was taken from about a mile and a quarter away north of the site. Staff was gracious enough to send her electronic copies of all of the digital photos that they took the day of the staff report. What is not in their staff report was a photo that was taken with what appears to be a very strong zoom lens. She passed around some pictures showing the same viewpoint without the zooms lens. The Commission will be able to see that the photos were all taken from the same location because of the street sign located in the corner. The balloons are located way over in the photos. In one of the pictures you can sort of make out the larger Nextel balloon, but just barely. Then in those same pictures you cannot make out the Ntelos balloon. She stated that these photographs just put this in perspective. They certainly acknowledge that there is this one view where the balloon appears to be skylighted. But, it is a mile and a quarter away from the leased area and the photograph was made using what appears to be a very strong zoom lens. Therefore, at a mile and a quarter away with the naked eye that pole will be very minimally visible if at all. She hoped that would help ameliorate some of the staff’s concerns about the visibility at least with regard to that particular view. That is the only location that anybody had identified where the balloon skylighted and where there was no wooded backdrop.
Mr. Edgerton asked if that was located on Route 745.
Ms. Long stated that site was at the intersection of Arrowhead Valley Road, which she believed was Route 745. She pointed out the location where the photograph was taken on a map in relationship to the proposed monopole location. She stated that the Commission also received in their packets copies of other pictures where there is wooded backdrop behind the trees. She pointed out that staff’s main concern is that there is no wooded backdrop. They certainly dispute that position since they feel that there is very adequate backdrop behind it and the photos were taken too far away from the site. When the existing Triton facility was approved in 2001 there was no question that there was an adequate wooded backdrop. In fact, she had handled that application for Trition and well remembers it. This site was considered to be a very positive site with very effective wooded backdrop. Therefore, she was a little perplexed by the concern that all of a sudden it was not considered to be adequate. They think that there is more than sufficient screening on site as required by the ordinance.
Mr. Thomas asked which balloon belonged to Ntelos.
Ms. Long stated that the Ntelos’ balloon was always the smallest one in the pictures. She passed out a photo that was very representative that was not taken with the zooms lens. She acknowledged that it will appear farther away than what the naked eye would see, but that in this picture you can easily pick out the larger Nextel balloon because it is so large. You have to look very closely to find the smaller of the two red balloons that represents the Ntelos facility. She pointed out that in the picture you can see the extensive wooded vegetation on site that provides very adequate, in her opinion, wooded backdrop. The color of the monopole will be dark brown. She asked to take a moment to address the issue of the height of the pole at 7 feet above versus 10 feet above. As many of the Commissioners may recall, the new Wiireless Ordinance provides that the Commission can approve a facility at 10 feet above. She cited directly from the ordinance, “If the owner of the facility demonstrates to the satisfaction of the Commission that there is not a material difference in the visibility of the monopole at the proposed height rather than at a height 7 feet taller than the tallest tree and there is not a material difference in the adverse impacts to resources identified on the County’s open space plan caused by the monopole at the proposed height rather than at a height 7 foot above the tallest tree. That is the reason that they submitted the proposed photo simulations that showed a side by side of the pole at the two locations where it was visible from Route 29, which showed it at 7 feet above the tree and 10 feet above the tree. That was done to demonstrate that, in their opinion, there is not a material difference in the visibility of the pole at 7 feet above as compared to 10 feet above. In addition, staff has already indicated that the proposal does not have any adverse impacts on the open space resources. Therefore, they feel that if it does not have any adverse impacts on the open space resources as they have applied for it, and there is no material difference in the visibility at 7 feet versus 10 feet above it, then they hope that the Commission will agree that they have met that standard. There are other points that she would like to make, but obviously she was out of time but would be pleased to respond to additional questions. She distributed photographs from when the Triton facility was approved that demonstrate, in fact, that the visibility of the Ntelos site is, in her opinion, better than it was with the Triton site. There is actually a spot on Route 29 where the Triton site is skylighted. It is a very short distance away of about one-tenth of a mile. At the time the Board and Commission had determined that was a minimal amount of skylighting to be considered in the larger picture. There is also a brand new facility that was just constructed north of this site that was right next to the road. She stated that it was a fine site, but it demonstrates that the site does not have nearly the effective screening as the Ntelos’ proposal has. (ATTACHMENT – Photographs Submitted By Valerie Long)
Mr. Thomas invited public comments regarding this application. He stated that there was one person signed up, which was Mr. Woods.
Greg Woods stated that he was one of nine family members who own the adjoining property to the site. They have been lived on the site since the first request for the cell towers and have witnessed what the Planning Commission has gone through. He pointed out that the Planning Commission has gone through a great deal of time and difficulty in establishing the guidelines for these towers because they have had so many requests. When the Commission set the height limit, the material, etc. for the placement of these towers, they had voiced their objections about turning the adjoining property into a commercial zone and asked that it be minimized. They feel that they can’t really object to the tower, but they do feel like questioning it. He stated that it seemed like Planning was giving in to some of the guidelines that were so difficultly fought for. He questioned why the original sites could not be made to work. He stated that he did not like the invasion further up the mountain since the height of the monopole is considerable. They can’t object to the tower because it is going to be there and is going to be needed, but they do object to the location. He stated that he was sorry that the Planning Commission’s guidelines were now being ignored. There are some spots where the proposed cell tower will be visible from Arrowhead Valley Road, but that is not as immediate as the fact that the County has working guidelines and they should be adhered to.
Mr. Thomas asked if there was anyone else in the audience that would like to speak on this application.
Ann Bersardi stated that her property was just directly below the site of the tower on Route 29 between the railroad and the highway just south of Arrow Valley Road. She supported the opinion of the staff in that the tower will be visible from at least one site. Since she did not see the balloon she did not know if the tower would be visible from her property. She noted that the other opinion of staff was that the site did not have adequate coverage.
Chris Delvalley, representative for Nextel Partners, stated that their application’s proposed monopole was going to be 75 feet away from Ntelos new location on this site. Last Monday their request went before the Architectural Review Board. He pointed out that they did not have any problems with the ARB and had obtained their approval. They had not come across any major problems with this site and felt that it would be the same for Ntelos as well.
Ms. Long stated that they appreciated some of the comments made by some of the adjacent landowners. They certainly always try to be extremely respectful of the rights and interests of adjacent landowners. It is my understanding with the proposal that the balloon test was viewed from all adjacent properties when the staff was there and that the balloon was not visible. Staff has determined that there will not be any adverse impacts on adjacent properties or any of the resources that are protected by some of the conservation easements on this property, which gives them a great of comfort. She reiterated that this proposal is not waiving any of these toughly fought standards that are included in the Wireless Ordinance. This proposal complies very strictly with the Wireless Ordinance in every respect in terms of its design, its location and its on site screening. She stated that there has been no attempt to deviate from those very strict requirements. The applicant well knows that any efforts to deviate if it does not comply with the ordinance that it will not be approved. Therefore, they have worked very diligently to meet all of the criteria. In fact, this site was chosen by Ntelos because of the vast backdrop of trees that are on the property and the fact that the existing facilities there are so well received. The only other point was if Ntelos could have figured out a way to make the existing site work, then they would have done so. They have looked at the existing site in every way possible because it certainly would be much cheaper and much faster if they could just retro-fit the existing site to make it work. They have determined that even if they raised it 20 feet above the tops of the tallest tree, which they know would never be approved, it would still not be at a height that would enable the signal to work around the obstacle, which is the ridge line of the mountain. It is simply not at a good location. It was one of the very first sites and they did not realize that it was not going to work. They have tried everything, but they know this new site will work and work very well. If there are any questions, she would be happy to respond to them.
Mr. Thomas asked if Ms. Long could provide an explanation why they need the extra 3 feet above the 7 feet allowed.
Ms. Long stated that every foot in height above the trees makes a tremendous amount of difference in the quality of the signal. The entire portion of the antenna needs to be above the tops of the trees and not just the top of it. The antennas on this facility are actually somewhat shorter and 5 feet long. But if you are only 7 feet above the tops of the trees that only allows for 2 feet of clearance. That is only in regards to the trees within 25 feet of the site. There are also trees that could be taller farther away, but because of the sloping terrain at this site that would probably not be an issue. Intelos had an arborist study done on the soils and trees on this site to try to find the likelihood of how fast these trees would grow. The arborist has taken soil studies of the property. She distributed copies of his letter, which conclude in essence that based on his soil’s study and analysis of the property that he expects the trees to grow about 2 to 3 feet per year on average. Because of that, Ntelos does not want to have a site that is marginal. At 7 feet above, if the trees are growing 2 to 3 feet a year on average, granted that is going to vary; they are looking at having to replace this pole and extend it higher probably within a few years. That requires a lot of effort and cost. Because the standards say as long as there are no material differences between the visibility of the facility at 7 feet versus 10 feet above and no adverse impact on any open space resources, the Commission can approve it. So monopole works tremendously better for every additional foot in height, which will enable this site to work sufficiently to meet their standards for coverage. Where at 7 feet above the monopole will not work as well. Again, the mountains in this area are relatively close to the road and the trees are close to the road and the road is curvy. It is very challenging to develop a network in that area and every foot in height counts. Given that that there is no difference in visibility, she hoped that the Commission would agree that it would warrant your support at 10 feet above.
Mr. Thomas asked if there were any questions for Ms. Long.
Ms. Joseph pointed out that their arborist is telling you that the trees will grow, but he is also telling you to fertilize them.
Ms. Long stated that the arborist was talking about the trees immediately near the site that are going to be impacted by construction, which was why they asked for a very tough and comprehensive conservation plan. As the Commission knows, heavy equipment will be required to install these sites. When heavy equipment gets any where near these trees, even with the tree protection fencing and the conservation measures that he is recommending, there is going to be an impact on the trees. Our goal, of course, is to protect those trees, particularly the tallest tree. Therefore, they asked the arborist to tell them everything that they needed to do to protect those trees. She felt that the conservation plan was very comprehensive. It was more stringent than any other tree conservation plan that she had seen before. She stated that the conservation plan was a step in the right direction. She felt that his recommendation for fertilization was not to make the trees grow, but to protect them.
Mr. Thomas asked if there was anyone else present who would like to speak on this application. There being no one, he closed the public hearing to bring the matter back to the Commission for discussion and possible action.
Ms. Higgins stated that she knew that they had to differentiate between the balloons. She asked if there was any relationship to the size of the balloon and the specific antenna that it was made for.
Mr. Waller stated that on the second test Nextel used a much smaller balloon.
Ms. Higgins asked if there was a relationship to the diameter of the balloon as opposed to the antenna shape or size.
Mr. Waller stated no because they just used the balloon that they had in stock. The current requirements set a maximum diameter of the top of the pole at 18 inches and then the face of the antenna can be no further out than 12 inches.
Ms. Higgins asked what the size was of these balloons because she was trying to get a perspective. Is the balloon as big as what they were going to look at or is it exaggerated so that you can see it better.
Mr. Waller stated that the Ntelos balloon is probably going to be a lot closer to the true size to the top of the pole.
Ms. Long stated that it was her understanding that in the pictures where you see both balloons that the Ntelos balloon was a 36 inch diameter balloon, which roughly equates to the size of the facility at its top. That would be 18 inches plus 12 inches on either side for antennas and brackets. It would be a few inches wider than that balloon. She believed that the Ntelos partner’s balloon was in the range of 6 to 7 feet in diameter, which was much greater than the facility would be. She stated that they use 36 inch diameter balloons in an effort to be as representative as possible.
Ms. Higgins asked why they did not make it the same color that the pole would have been
Ms. Long stated that the ordinance actually requires that you use a bright color for high visibility.
Mr. Thomas asked if there were any other questions for Ms. Long. Since there were none, the meeting went back to the Commission for action.
Mr. Morris moved to accept SDP-2004-00095, Arrowhead/Ntelos.
Ms. Higgins seconded the motion.
Mr. Rieley asked to get something on the table. He agreed with staff and Mr. Wood in that the proposed site creeps up the mountain. There is a shift in the materials that would be larger and more visible. There is a shift from a dull surface to something that the applicant could paint, but it still reflects light enormously. At the same time he thought that this site does have some advantages. He agreed with staff that it was better to have the backdrop close. The difference between having or not having a back drop is a bigger difference than having the backdrop closer than farther away. He stated that he could support this with two provisions. He stated that the illustrations that the applicant gave the Commission shows that there is, in fact, a material difference between the 7 and 10 feet. He suggested that they hold the height at 7 feet as they have done for all of the towers in that location and stipulate that the materials will be wood to make it consistent with the other towers in that area. He pointed out that he was suggesting that as a friendly amendment.
Ms. Higgins stated that the arborist’s report indicates that these trees have a useful life span of 20 to 30 years with a very aggressive growth rate. She felt that 3 foot difference would not make the monopole any more visible for the short duration that it might be visible from Route 29. She supported allowing the applicant to have a taller pole to allow for the best coverage possible so that the next pole would be further away.
Mr. Kamptner advised that the Planning Commission could not stipulate a change in the pole’s material to wood, and that was dropped as part of the condition of approval.
Mr. Waller stated that in this case the ARB has already given the blessing to allow the metal pole.
Mr. Rieley stated that was a big mistake since he disagreed. The shinier and higher the pole was would make the pole more visible.
Mr. Edgerton agreed with Mr. Rieley that the pole should remain 7 feet.
Ms. Joseph agreed that the pole was much more visible at 10 feet.
Mr. Craddock agreed with Mr. Rieley.
Mr. Rieley seconded the amended motion.
Ms. Joseph clarified that the motion is to approve this Ntelos monopole at 7 feet higher than the tree.
Mr. Kamptner stated that his motion was to approve the request with the tower being 7 feet in height.
The motion carried by a vote of (7:0).
Mr. Thomas stated SDP-2004-00095 was approved to allow the monopole to be 7 feet in height above tallest tree.
Ms. Higgins suggested that another motion be made denying the applicant’s request for the monopole to be 10 feet in height above the tallest tree.
Mr. Morris moved for denial of the applicant’s request for the height of 10 feet above the trees.
Mr. Craddock seconded the motion.
The motion carried by a vote of (6:1). (Higgins – Nay)
Mr. Thomas stated this motion gives the applicant the option to appeal it to the Board of Supervisors.
With no further items, the meeting adjourned at 10:11 p.m. to the November 16 meeting.
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