The Albemarle County Planning Commission has denied a critical slope waiver that would allow Verizon Wireless to construct a 73 foot tall tower along Interstate 64, even though it narrowly approved a special use permit for same structure. The denial came despite claims by attorney Stephen Blaine that his client was being held to a higher standard than other wireless providers in the area.

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Because four existing towers are near the same site, Verizon Wireless needed to apply for a special use permit. The site is visible from VDOT’s memorial overlook on I-64.

Staff recommended approval of the tower, but recommended denial of the critical slopes waiver. County Planner Megan Yaniglos told the Commission that three of the four towers in the same location also disturbed critical slopes, but a waiver was not required when they were approved in 2000. Since then, the ordinance has changed to require more review.

Blaine said the tower is necessary to help Verizon Wireless provide service to its customers as they drive along the Interstate, and also to provide service to residents in that section of the County. Blaine said the application addresses the impacts of the disturbances with a sediment control plan.

“We want to uphold the integrity of the critical slope ordinance,” Blaine said. “The way to uphold it and respect it is to consistently apply it using the criteria your engineering department set forth.”

Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner said he was not sure why the prior applications were approved without a waiver, but that the County is obligated to apply ordinances that are on the books. He said he did not think that Verizon was being discriminated against, and that something must have been overlooked in the past.

During the public hearing, several members of the Greenwood neighborhood in Albemarle County pleaded with the Commission to deny the application, in part because they want Verizon to introduce landline high-speed access to their community. Tim Scruby of Dick Woods Lane said the construction of the tower would discourage Verizon from investing in such services.

Blaine said that Verizon Wireless is a separate company from Verizon, the phone company that is being asked by residents to provide DSL service. “If there’s a business reason for the landline company to extend DSL then they will,” he said, but added that wireless Internet might be a possibility in the future.

Commissioner Marcia Joseph (At-Large) said she lives in an area that is not served by wired broadband, but that she made a choice to invest in a large satellite dish so she could run her business from home. “It’s hard for me to support additional, more urban, services in the rural areas,” she said.

After an hour and a half of discussion, the Commission voted 4-3 to approve the special use permit. Scottsville Linda Porterfield (Scottsville) said she could not support a fifth tower in the location, and Commissioners Cannon and Strucko sided with her. Strucko then made a motion to deny the critical slopes waiver, which was approved 4-3.

The item will go to the Board of Supervisors on May 7, 2008. If the Board agrees with the Commission, the application will be denied. The Albemarle County Planning Commission is expected to have a work session related to the process for reviewing wireless tower facilities at their meeting on April 22, 2008.


Sean Tubbs

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