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Casanova cell tower decision pending

Wednesday, May. 27 | By James Ivancic
From left, Supervisors Holder Trumbo, Peter Schwartz, Chester Stribling, Chris Granger and Lee Sherbeyn listen to comments from the public during the May 14 Board of Supervisors meeting. Photo by Alisa Booze Troetshel / One Boat Media
The Fauquier County Board of Supervisors recently delayed for 90 days a decision on the installation of a 154-ft. high monopole in Casanova to improve cell phone and Internet reception to give Verizon time to study an alternative site.

The action was taken May 14 after a public hearing that drew a large crowd of supporters and opponents alike.

The latter didn't argue that improved Internet and cell service wasn't needed but that the tower would be too conspicuous at the location the application spelled out – the Dale Childs property at 5272 Casanova Road.

A special exception is required to put up a tower more than 80 feet high. An exception is also needed if there isn't at least 100 feet of wooded area on all sides of the tower and the application doesn't comply on that score either.

“This is a very difficult ordinance to work with. We tried to find what we thought was an appropriate place,” said Frank Stearns, Verizon representative. “It's not length of the pole but the height of the antenna” that's critical.

He said he didn't think an alternative site would be better.

Paul Dugan, a Verizon consultant, said “a reduction in height would leave some out of coverage.”

Verizon had requested a one-month postponement before its application was heard by the supervisors. It conducted two additional balloon tests during that time. One test was conducted about 310 feet west of the originally proposed site, behind a silo. The other was conducted on the adjacent property to the west, the Pohzehl property, at a slightly higher elevation within a stand of young trees. Tethered balloons are used to help visualize the height of a proposed tower.

The postponement followed a public hearing in March in front of the county planning commission. Eighteen residents spoke in support of the project at that hearing and seven against.

Four speakers representing Verizon spoke on the matter. The commission voted 3 to 2 to recommend denial of the application on the basis of tower siting and design, and not fulfilling requirements for towers exceeding 120 feet in height.

At the May 14 hearing, Jim Cirillo of the Cedar Run District where the cell tower would be located, said he supported the tower because of “safety and security. People can't make 911 calls. When it comes time, vote yes. It's not only important, it's necessary.”

Jack Miller of Country View Drive in the Cedar Run District maintained that “a majority of Casanova supports the tower.” He said he was submitting a petition with more than 200 signature of people supporting the tower.

“Poor cell phone and Internet signals endanger our safety, hinders our children's education and disadvantages the poor,” he said. “You have to do everything you can to help us get that tower.”

Greg Huddleston of the Cedar Run District said he is “sympathetic” to the problems caused by inadequate service “but there needs to be sensitivity to the impact of that tower .. it will be very conspicuous and have a negative impact. We know that it can be sited and situated to make it less conspicuous. I think we need to make that happen.”

Mignonne Spellmeyer of Cedar Run said that she was opposed to granting a special exception to allow the tower.

“We can be served by a smaller tower,” she said. “Make Verizon bring us the service in a way that meets the comprehensive plan.”

Wendy Breeden of Cedar Run said that while she's a teacher “also I believe we should follow the ordinance. We have to find a solution that will make everyone happy.”

Margrete Stevens of Casanova said the tower “would create s scenic distraction. I urge you to work within the ordinance.”

Marshall District Supervisor Peter Schwartz said, “It pains me to see the division in Casanova.”

He said he was able to work with Verizon on the placement of a tower on Paris Mountain and he thought it could be done again in this case.

Cedar Run District Supervisor Lee Sherbeyn, in whose district the tower would be placed, said that he appreciated all the work that's been done by the county staff with Verizon and the feelings expressed. He noted that his district doesn't have the hills that Schwartz has in his.

Center District Supervisor Chris Granger noted that everybody seemed to agree that a cell tower was needed. He predicted “there's going to be a win-win that won't set a precedent. We all worry about our districts.”

Sherbeyn introduced a motion to keep open the public hearing for 90 days to give Verizon additional time to study location options. The motion was approved unanimously.

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