Nelson Planning Commission Approves New Cell Tower Location in Afton

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By Kathy Johnson

When the Nelson County Planning Department brought a request for a 144-foot communications tower that would provide broadband service to Nelson County residents to the Nelson Planning Commission in October for approval, a contentious meeting resulted. But a new site for the tower on land owned by the Rockfish Valley Fire Department changed the tone of the December 28 meeting and in the end the planning commission gave its approval.

The need for broadband service has been a priority of the Nelson Board of Supervisors since 2006. In 2009 the county was awarded a Federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant in the amount of $1,826,646 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That grant enables the county to install approximately 31 miles of fiber optic cable and four towers to support broadband services from the north to the south end of the county, linking the communities of Afton, Avon, Lovingston, Colleen, Tyro and Massies Mill. The proposed Afton tower would be one of those four.

A small but vocal group of residents from the Magnolia Acres area of Afton, some who live directly adjacent to the first location proposed for the tower, attended both meetings and by the end of the December meeting appeared satisfied with the planning commission’s approval of the most recently proposed site off Route 151 on land owned by the fire department.

Planning Department Director Fred Boger brought three possible sites to the commission for their consideration at the most recent meeting.  Only one site is needed in the Afton area, but finding the right spot was the problem. While the originally proposed site was zoned A-1, it was adjacent to industrial property and the county had originally approached the property owners, Dr. Andrew and Mrs. Patricia Hodson, seeking their approval.

A number of issues were brought up at the October meeting, including the tower’s possible negative impact on health, on wildlife and the migration patterns of birds, and on property values. The tower’s proximity to Scenic Byways and the effect on tourism were also questioned. Some residents also expressed concern about where the tower might fall if it were to come down and the possibility of water contamination if the tower were to fall in a nearby lake.

There was also the issue of some income from the site, and most speakers argued that the citizens of Nelson County would be better served by the fire department receiving the money rather than an individual.

“Any income should go to the fire department,” said Mark Shachtman of Magnolia Acres.  “That would benefit all of Nelson County.”

Suzann Williams-Rosenthal, also of Magnolia Acres, agreed: “This preserves the beauty of the view and I prefer that the fire department get the income.”

Tommy Harvey, Chief for Rockfish Valley, spoke in favor of the fire department site and said the tower could be an asset for them. Afton resident Michael Tancyus said, “Moving the tower provides approximately $40,000 income to the Fire Department … that benefits the whole county.”

All those attending the December meeting spoke in favor of the Fire Department site although there was some concern regarding necessary variances that would have to be granted. Planning Commission member Linda Russell from Nellysford pointed out that all the locations required the same number of exemptions from ordinances (four). “In this case we are looking at what benefits the entire residents of the county.”

Michael Tapager, of the south district, expressed concern for Dr. Hodson, who was approached by the county about the first proposed site and was the recipient of numerous negative comments during the October meeting. “I would like to see some coming together with Dr. Hodson. He was probably feeling he was doing a service.”

The planning commission approved the necessary variances and forwarded their approval to the Nelson County Supervisors for final action at their January 10 meeting.