Hears Update on Cell Tower Proposed at WAHS
While Crozet waits its turn for its Master Plan revision to occur, possibly in 2019, the Crozet Community Advisory Committee is drafting a set of planning principles to hold up as guiding benchmarks should new rezoning requests come forward meanwhile.
At the CCAC’s meeting Feb. 21, Crozet Community Association President Tim Tolson, who also served on the committee that developed and executed the survey, linked five survey question responses that show overwhelming community agreement with specific passages from the 2010 Crozet Master Plan to show CCAC members how survey results reinforced language in the plan.
“We took the survey and connected to the Master Plan,” Tolson said.
The survey showed powerful community agreement on five issues, he said: 1) preserve Crozet’s small town feel, even while experiencing further development; 2) don’t alter the current Growth Area Boundary; 3) ensure downtown Crozet is the center of development; 4) limit commercial development along Route 250; 5) expand transportation options, especially biking and pedestrian options.
The one question where the community seemed ambivalent was over development of Interstate 64’s Interchange 107 at Yancey Mills. Tolson said it was an issue that should be discussed in a town hall forum during the plan revision process. Crozet must wait for county planners to finish the Pantops Master Plan, a process expected to take another year, before turning to a review of Crozet’s plan.
CCAC member John McKeon said that what the survey shows is that “the longer you’ve lived here, the more you are opposed to development at Exit 107. The more history you know about it, the more you’re against it.”
“Should we use this information to say something to the Board of Supervisors now and not wait?” asked CCAC chair David Stoner.
“These results really support the outcome of the Adelaide decision,” which downsized a subdivision plan proposed for Rt. 250, noted Tolson.
“We have to take it to the board to leave them with no ambiguity about the principles,” said CCAC member Tom Loach. “We should say to the Supervisors: we just redid the community survey. Until the revision is done we want these principles respected.”
“We should make a general statement that is not in the context of any particular application,” said White Hall Planning Commissioner Jennie More.
“We do not want to get in to a position like we were with the brewery that the county is making a plan behind closed doors without consulting the community,” said Loach. “I would even expand the principles to include that we want to be notified about projects that are being considered in areas adjoining the Crozet Growth Area.”
“Can we issue something that pulls these issues out?” asked Kim Guenther.
“I think yes,” answered Stoner.
“Your job is to help implement the Crozet Master Plan,” said White Hall Supervisor Ann Mallek.
“The good news for us is that the language in 2010 is already supported,” said Loach.
Stoner suggested that the CCAC’s March 21 meeting be a “workshop to create a document to send to the Supervisors.” Members were asked to review the Master Plan meanwhile. “I found it valuable to look for the five principles throughout the Plan,” said Tolson. “What you find is that one will appear on like eight different pages.”
“I’d like it to be something unequivocal,” said McKeon. “It’s our job to be the steering committee for the plan. Let’s leave no wiggle room.”
Leslie Burns suggested raising the issue of density calculations manipulated by parcel boundary adjustments, but the Committee felt that that issue, present across the county, should be addressed separately.
“I hear a consensus that we want to transmit this,” concluded Stoner.
The CCAC’s March 21 meeting will be held at The Field School at 1408 Crozet Avenue.
In other business, the CCAC heard an update on the application of Milestone Communications to build a 145-foot cell phone tower immediately above the home stands at the football field at Western Albemarle High School.
Lori Schweller of the law firm LeClaireRyan in Charlottesville said that 22 eastern cedar trees will be planted along Rt. 250 to screen the tower from the road. Plus, a 200-foot radius of trees around the tower will remain undisturbed.
A “major change’ is the location of the utility building from under the stands to away from the stands, a change requested by fire and rescue officials to make the building easier to get to.
Schweller said that Verizon and T-Mobile have sent letters of interest about using the tower and that AT&T is also considered a possibility. Meanwhile the County’s Architectural Review Board, which judges on aesthetics, has approved the proposal.
Because it’s a Tier III application, it still requires approval for a Special Use Permit by the Supervisors.
Ira Socol, executive director of technology for county schools, told the CCAC that the tower “creates equal opportunity for all our children wherever they are in the county. Students who lack access to broadband are significantly limited in what they can do. We hear, ‘We don’t have access. How is my child supposed to keep up?’
“We are building up our fiber networks so that we don’t have to pay commercial rates. The other thing is the LTE distribution capacity. Topography is our biggest challenge. A 145-foot tower will let us reach 400 children who do not now have access. Every 10 feet we come down, we lose significant numbers of students. It’s not our goal to always come back to the taxpayers for more money.”
“Will students be provided connectivity equipment to pick up signals?” asked CCAC member Shawn Bird.
“Yes,” said Socol.
“We do continuous studies about health impacts,” added Socol. “There is just no evidence at distance that this creates any problems. I know this is emerging science. I would not be here if I thought there was any danger.”
WAHS student Thomas Jackson raised the matter of studies done in Europe that show that cell tower radiation affects the navigational ability of honey bees, causing them to not be able to find their hive.
“The bees on Carters Mountain, which has many arrays, are doing incredibly well and producing large amounts of honey,” responded Socol. “We see no evidence at all at Monticello High School. We’re always evaluating.”
Bird asked if the $40,000 a year income expected from the tower would go to the schools around the tower.
“We’re a community system and the money will be distributed as needed across the county. We trust the School Board to put the money where they need it.”
CCAC member Allie Pesch asked for clarification on how the 400 students presumed to be without Internet access were identified.
“We collected address data and we surveyed students. We looked at addresses where reasonable broadband access was available.
“Did you survey those addresses to see what their access is?” asked Mallek.
“This is one of the number one things we hear all the time,” answered Socol. “Is the 400 number absolute? No. If it were two students, I would have a responsibility to do something.” Police and fire/rescue services would also be able to use the tower’s signal, he added.
“We need a certain angle of attack to get to people’s home. I would like every child in Greenwood and White Hall to get the signal. We originally targeted a 185-foot height that would do the most. We can figure out how to get to 90 percent of kids. It’s the last 10 percent that’s hard. I’ve been in educational technology since the last century. I do not have safety concerns about this. The dispersal of energy is reasonable.”
“How many students would still have a problem?” asked CCAC member Phil Best.
“Under 100 in the western feeder pattern,” said Socol.
“What’s the correlation of access to academic performance?” asked Sean Jackson, a neighbor of the tower location.
“Hundreds of studies,” said Socol.
“Really?” said Jackson, asking next for a citation.
“The more access, the more opportunities. That’s why we devote so much energy to this,” said Socol.
“Are you creating corporate drones or citizens?” said Jackson.
“How would you feel if a private citizen was asking for this tower?” asked More.
“A lot of ordinances need updating,” answered Socol. “Our students would no longer benefit from it. I would have no safety concern about it. There’s no evidence of a problem. This is me speaking from my level of expertise. I’m not a medical doctor.”
“We should look at it the same way whether it’s a private or public applicant,” said More.
“Laws are living documents,” responded Socol.
According to county planning staffer Chris Perez, who was present, the tower can be raised by 20 feet one time by right once it’s an approved facility. “Our ordinance is focused on visibility and that’s what the staff review is focused on,” he said, “not police or fire/rescue access. We can’t take that into consideration.” The application asks for four exceptions, he said. “I don’t see why the staff would recommend approval because it does not meet the ordinance.” Federal Communications Commission rules also forbid localities from considering possible health affects when voting on tower applications.
Best asked for a show of hands to gauge CCAC sentiment on the application, but that was postponed until the March meeting.
The request goes before the Planning Commission on March 10. The tower installed at Albemarle High School also did not meet the ordinance requirements, but was approved by the Supervisors.