County Wants Tower Plan B

Supervisors Ask AT&T To Look For Better Site

Posted: June 13, 2013

HARRISONBURG — Rockingham County officials sent AT&T back to the drawing board to see if it can find a better place for a proposed telecommunications tower that has neighbors up in arms.

The Board of Supervisors tabled a request Wednesday for a special-use permit to build a 150-foot monopole off Boyers Road north of Port Republic Road.

Supervisor Dee Floyd, who represents the area, said he wants more information about the location and whether somewhere else might be a better fit.

In particular, Floyd pointed to concerns Rockingham Memorial Hospital has about the proposed tower being in the flight path of medical helicopters transporting patients to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville.

Valerie Long, a Charlottesville attorney who represents AT&T, said the company has exhausted all other possible locations in the area it’s targeting for increased coverage.

The process involved in identifying a tower site includes looking at Federal Aviation Administration requirements, which generally don’t apply to towers under 200 feet, Long said.

“In terms of safety, certainly [AT&T does] not want to build a tower that’s going to create a safety problem for anyone,” she said.

AT&T first approached RMH about using its building but the hospital declined, saying telecommunications facilities could get in the way if the hospital builds up.

AT&T also looked at a tower at Massanetta Springs, but it didn’t meet the company’s needs, Long said.

In response to comments from the board and neighbors, Long said the company would explore the possibility of extending the Massanetta Springs tower in addition to looking at other locations.

It also will look into having a third-party flight safety consultant review the proposal to see if it poses a risk to medical helicopters.

Jim Krauss, president and chief executive officer of RMH, said he cannot speak for medical flight operators Pegasus and AirCare, but the proposed location does raise red flags from the hospital’s perspective in terms of safety.

Aesthetics also are a concern for both the hospital and other neighbors.

Additionally, area residents are worried that the tower will cause property values to decline.

“The cell tower would be detrimental to the surrounding uses, including the homes and the hospital itself,” said Kirk Becchi, an attorney who represented a couple of nearby property owners.

Supervisor Bill Kyger told opponents to keep in mind that most people have cellphones these days, and towers are necessary infrastructure to keep them working.

“Someone else’s inconvenience is there for your convenience as well,” he said, “and that’s how you have to look at it.”
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