STAFF PERSON:                            Stephen B. Waller, AICP               

PLANNING COMMISSION:                     OCTOBER 4, 2005



SP 05-019 Buck’s elbow Mountain (Ntelos)


Applicant’s Proposal:


The applicant has submitted an application for a special use permit that would allow the co-location of a 6-foot long, 11.7-inch wide antenna and 14.5- inch diameter microwave dish supporting the provision of portable wireless broadband services on an existing structure (Attachment A).  The proposed antenna would be attached with mounting rod extending nine (9) feet above a 15-foot tall tower structure, which is located on top of a 12-foot tall building, resulting in a total top height of approximately 42-feet above ground level and 3157-feet above mean sea level (AMSL).  Attachment of the microwave dish is proposed on the same tower at approximately 4 feet above the building’s roof line, while all supporting ground equipment would be contained within the building.  The property, described as Tax Map 39 - Parcel 1E, contains 0.22 acres, zoned Rural Areas (Attachment B).  This site is located in the White Hall Magisterial District, on Buck's Elbow Mountain, approximately 3-1/2 miles northeast of the intersection with Jarman's Gap Road [State Route #611].  The Comprehensive Plan designates this site as Rural Area 3.




The applicant is requesting approval of the proposed special use permit in accordance with Section 10.2.2(48) of the Zoning Ordinance, which allows for Tier III personal wireless service facilities in the Rural Areas zoning district. 


Character of the Area:


The existing building is located within a compound that was originally installed and operated by the C&P Telephone Company and is currently owned by American Tower Corporation.  The pole-mounted broadband antenna and supporting microwave dish are proposed to be attached to one of four towers extending from the roof of the building.  The three remaining tower structures support a three-sector array of Nextel antennas that are attached with stand-off brackets that contain three panels each (Attachment C). 


The subject property is surrounded on all sides by a much larger parcel that also contains two other compounds for wireless facilities with taller towers.  Those facilities, which are situated to the north at higher elevations, consist of an Emergency Communications Center (ECC) tower and a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) tower.  The area to the east of this site slopes downward and is heavily wooded with a mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees that begins near the facility site.  The nearest dwelling is located more than 1000 feet west of this facility site and several small rock outcroppings are dispersed along the ridgeline near the access road leading to the north.



Planning and Zoning History:


SP 86-76 Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company - At its meeting on December 2, 1986, the Planning Commission voted to indefinitely defer a request to allow the installation of a 75-foot tall lattice tower with a 6-foot diameter microwave dish attached at its top.  Although that request has never been revisited, site sketches that were submitted with that request demonstrate that the rooftop tower structures on the existing building once had four large microwave dishes attached to each of the (Attachment D).


Comprehensive Plan:


All of the antennas and equipment for the proposed facility would be located on a rooftop tower above the existing building, and vehicular access would be provided to the site by way of the existing gravel access road.  Therefore, because this proposal does not necessitate any additional disturbance, staff’s review for compliance with Comprehensive Plan guidelines is focused largely on the visual impacts upon locations surrounding the site that could result from the presence of the new antenna and dish.  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.  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:


Because of the level of support that wireless broadband services provide for portable devices, such as laptop computers and personal data systems and the similarity in size that the proposed facility shares with PCS equipment, this application is being reviewed as a personal wireless service facility.  Broadband Service Providers are considered Personal Wireless Service Providers under the provisions of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.  The wireless policy recommends a three tiered approach to the review of personal wireless facilities which was adopted as Section 5.1.40 of the Zoning Ordinance.  Tier I consists of facilities that can either be located within existing structures that conceal them from outside views or flush-mounted onto structure in order to reduce the possible visual impacts that could be caused by increasing the bulk of those structures.  Tier II of the policy encourages the utilization of new facilities with flush-mounted antennas attached to treetop structures designed to blend into the natural surroundings.  Tier III allows the implementation of facilities that can’t be designed to meet the requirements in either of the first two tiers.


In this case the proposed omni-directional antenna will be mounted on a pole proposed to extend above the top of the tallest portion of the existing structure and it is accompanied by a microwave dish that is not flush-mounted.  However, staff notes that the antenna and its mounting pole both have narrow profiles; and, at 4 only feet above the building’s roofline, the proposed dish would be shorter than some of the nearby trees at the edge of the forest that begins just to the east of the facility site.  Therefore, the proposed co-location is not anticipated to increase the visibility of the existing building and structures which are not currently visible from nearby roads and other parcels that are not located on the ridgeline.


Open Space Plan and Chapter 2 of the Comprehensive Plan:


Staff has identified the Buck’s Elbow Mountain Resource Area, which begins at the 1200-foot contour interval, as an Open Space resource that could be potentially affected by approval of this application.  The Comprehensive Plan designates mountains as major open space systems that provide scenic views, naturally forested areas and wildlife habitat, and are recommended for protection in the Rural Areas.  Staff has identified the following general standard that has been set forth for protecting mountain resources:


·        Locate houses and structures to make them unobtrusive in the landscape.

      -     Do not build structures taller than the natural tree canopy.

      -     Do not locate houses and structures where they will be “skylighted” against the horizon.

-         Do not alter the continuity of the ridgeline.


The 10,000 square foot facility site has a ground level elevation of 3117 ASL and is situated nearly 700 feet below the ridgeline of Buck’s Elbow Mountain, which peaks at an elevation of approximately 3800 feet Above Sea Level (ASL).  A line of tall trees within an existing wooded area just east of this site runs north to south screening visibility of the building from most of the areas surrounding Buck’s Elbow.  Therefore, it is staff’s opinion that the building is not an obtrusive feature in the landscape and other issues such as skylighting and altering the continuity of the ridgeline are not significant concerns to this proposal.




Staff has reviewed this request for compliance with the provisions of Section of the Zoning Ordinance and recommends approval with conditions.




Staff will address the issues of this request in four sections:


1.                                          Section 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 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 highest portions of Buck’s Elbow Mountain are visible from various distances, staff has found no evidence to indicate that the proposed co-location would increase the visibility of the existing structure.  This is because the scale of the pole-mounted antenna and the microwave dish are both very small in comparison to the building.  Additionally, because both have to be painted to match the color of the rooftop towers that are already screened by the nearby treeline they would not be easily observed to the naked eye from most adjacent properties.  Therefore, it is staff’s opinion that this proposal would not be of substantial detriment to adjacent property.


            that the character of the district will not be changed thereby,


The pipe-mounted antenna is proposed to extend approximately 13 feet above the top of the tallest portion of one of the existing rooftop towers.  However, there is an existing treeline to the east of this site that obscures the view of the building from the public roads near Buck’s Elbow Mountain.  Furthermore, this site is accessed by an existing road and all of the supporting equipment for the facility is proposed to be installed inside of the existing building.  Therefore, no tree removal or any other disturbance is necessary at this site.


Once this facility has been constructed and is fully operational, staff does not anticipate the scheduled site visits to create a significant increase in activity or traffic within the area.  The applicant’s request states that the proposed facility would be unmanned and that Ntelos service personnel would only have to travel to the site once a month for routine maintenance visits.  Staff does not expect this schedule of infrequent site visits to create a significant increase in activity or traffic within the area.


Based on the information provided above, staff finds that the approval of this proposal would not result in changing the character to the district.


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.


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 the use personal computers, much of the community relies heavily on the communications opportunities provided through internet and e-mail services.  Access to wireless broadband services expands the availability of those opportunities and greater convenience for users who don’t have access to other high speed connections such as Ethernet modems and cable broadband connections.


Whenever telecommunications facilities cannot be designed to stealthily blend in with the existing surroundings, the County’s policy and regulations set a preference for co-locating on existing buildings and structures.  This can be effective for ensuring that new facilities are not located in a manner that requires an extensive amount of environmental degradation or imposed significant visual impacts.  Because an opportunity for co-location on an existing structure with no additional disturbance is proposed in this request, it is staff’s opinion that the approval of this proposal complies sufficiently 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 attachment of the proposed antenna and dish would restrict or otherwise adversely affect any of the established uses or other by-right uses allowed on this site or on any of the nearby properties and zoning districts.



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


Section 5.1.12.a 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.”  Staff has attempted to address the concerns for possible impacts upon neighboring properties in the area with the analysis provided in this staff report and with the recommended conditions of approval.  The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) regulations address the most significant concerns for public health and safety regarding radio-frequency emission from wireless telecommunications facilities.


Section 5.1.40 of the Zoning Ordinance was adopted to implement the three-tiered review criteria as recommended by the Personal Wireless Service Facilities Policy.  This proposal is being reviewed as a Tier III co-location because the facility will have an antenna attached to a pipe that raises it above the existing structure and a microwave dish, neither of which are allowed by right under the Tier I and Tier II criteria for personal wireless service facilities.  Although this request differs from the standard personal wireless service co-locations that are normally seen, there are no provisions in the Zoning Ordinance precluding the use of mounting pipes and microwave dishes in Tier III proposals.  Therefore, staff’s review and recommendations are provided with consideration for the minimal amount of visual impacts and lack of environmental impacts that would be anticipated to result from the approval of this application. 




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


1.                  The approval of this wireless facility would not restrict any of the uses that are permitted by right on adjacent properties,

2.                  This proposal represents a co-location opportunity for new services and should have no discernible impact upon any natural, cultural or historic resources; and,

3.                  The co-location of the antenna and microwave dish at the proposed mounting heights and the installation of ground equipment within an existing building would not impose any additional impacts on adjacent properties.


The following factors are relevant to this consideration:


1.                  The proposed antenna and dish will not be flush-mounted; and,

2.                  There is an existing array of personal wireless panel facilities that are not flush-mounted on the building.





Staff has reviewed this request for compliance with the provisions set forth in Section of the Zoning Ordinance and recommends approval with conditions. 




Recommended conditions of approval:


1.                  The antenna, mounting pole, microwave dish and ground equipment shall all be sized, located, installed and maintained in general accord with the construction plans, structure elevations and schematic drawings, entitled “Telecommunications Facility Co-location, Bucks Elbow Mountain - Waynesboro/Crozet (WBP701), Crozet, Virginia 22932”, last revised August 12, 2005 and initialed SBW on September 20, 2005.

2.                  Prior to the issuance of a building permit, the applicant shall submit a final revised set of site drawings construction of the facility.  Planning staff shall review the revised plans to ensure that all appropriate conditions of this special use permit have been addressed.

3.                  The top of the omni-directional antenna shall not exceed an elevation of 3157 feet.

4.                  The 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 agent determines at any time that surety is required to guarantee that the facility will be removed as required, the agent may require that the parcel owner or the owner of the facility submit a certified check, a bond with surety, or a letter of credit, in an amount sufficient for, and conditioned upon, the removal of the facility. The type and form of the surety guarantee shall be to the satisfaction of the agent and the county attorney. In determining whether surety should be required, the agent shall consider the following: (i) the annual report states that the tower or pole is no longer being used for personal wireless service facilities; (ii) the annual report was not filed; (iii) there is a change in technology that makes it likely that tower or pole will be unnecessary in the near future; (iv) the permittee fails to comply with applicable regulations or conditions; (v) the permittee fails to timely remove another tower or pole within the county; and (vi) whenever otherwise deemed necessary by the agent.

5.                  The owner of the facility shall submit a report to the agent by no earlier than May or and no later than July 1 of each year. The report shall identify each user of the existing structure, and include a drawing, photograph or other illustration identifying which equipment is owned and/or operated by each personal wireless service provider. Multiple users on a single tower or other mounting structure may submit a single report, provided that the report includes a statement signed by a representative from each user acquiescing in the report.

6.                  The following shall be submitted to the agent after installation of the monopole is completed and prior to issuance of a certificate of occupancy: (i) certification by a registered surveyor stating the height of the monopole, measured both in feet above ground level and in elevation above mean sea level, using the benchmarks or reference datum identified in the application; and (ii) certification stating that the lightning rod’s height does not exceed two (2) feet above the top of the monopole and width does not exceed a diameter of one (1) inch.





A -       Special use permit application, construction plans and supporting information

B -       Parcel and location maps

C -       Photos of the existing building and facilities

D -       Sketch showing old building and tower designs (dated 11-18-86)

Return to PC actions letter