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Hearing on cell phone tower postponed

Special Exception permit request pending by AT&T for construction of a 195-foot monopole Hearing postponed to January for King George Supervisors to decide on cell tower in residential subdivision

A hearing by the King George Board of Supervisors for a special exception permit for a 195-foot monopole cell tower in a residential subdivision has been postponed to January 20.
Following a public hearing on November 11, the Planning Commission voted to forward the special exception permit request for a 195-foot monopole telecommunication facility to the Board of Supervisors with a recommendation for approval.
The special exception request was submitted by Allen Bright for AT&T on behalf of landowners Adrian and Jennifer Hamm.  
In addition to Bright, Greg Rapisarda spoke in favor of the proposal at the public hearing, representing the applicant.  
The hearing last month also garnered comments from six adjacent landowners or near-neighbors who all stated opposition to the special exception request.  
An additional public hearing will be held by the Board of Supervisors on the special exception request prior to any decision on the matter.  
That hearing was expected to be held later this month, but it has now been postponed from December 16 to January 20, according to Director of Community Development Jack Green.
Green told The Journal this week that AT&T had requested the postponement to allow them time to address issues brought up by residents last month speaking against the request.
The primary issue has to do with restrictions on the land in the Hugger Tract subdivision being used for any commercial activity in the protective covenants.
A telecommunication facility is a commercial use that is allowed in residential zoning only by special exception granted by the Board of Supervisors.  
The 195-foot monopole cell tower is proposed to be located on property in the Hugger Tract on Auburn Wood Drive identified on Tax Map 16F, (1) Parcel 61, which is zoned Rural Agricultural (A-2).  
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The Hugger Tract is a residential subdivision consisting of 82 parcels of 10 acres or greater in size.  It contains single-family homes and woodland on private roads, with frontage on both Route 206 and Route 218.  Caledon Natural Area is located across Route 218 from the subdivision.  
The monopole cell tower is proposed to be constructed on 10.123 acres, a lot on which the Hamm’s existing house is located.  It will be operated by AT&T.  
The tower would be located at least 400 feet from any existing dwelling.  That setback does not include unoccupied structures such as detached garages or sheds.
RCC Consultants, Inc., was contracted by the county to analyze and provide a recommendation regarding cell tower construction when an application is made within the county.  
RCC’s John Hitch was present at the Planning Commission meeting last month and provided a recommendation favorable to the request.
RCC is recommending that the special exception permit be approved and further recommends that the applicant agree to perform an airspace analysis and adjust the site plan if necessary, and that  landscaping be installed between the tower and the adjacent houses located northeast and southeast of the tower to block the view from houses 400 feet away.
~ RESIDENTS COMMENTING    The six residents speaking at the public hearing on the proposal were all against a special exception being granted.  
Those speaking against the request were John LoBuglio, Vincent Neal Ames, Matt Hornbaker, Pam Bramel, Sandra Covington and Theresa Perez.
Adjacent landowner John LoBuglio said he was opposed to the special exception request for numerous reasons.  LoBuglio said the tower would be visible from his front yard.  He said that the property owners willing to allow AT&T the use of their property have never improved their road from the construction damage caused when their house was built as required by the current restrictive covenants.  LoBuglio said he is concerned about further deterioration of the road due to the proposed commercial activity.  
Adjacent landowner Vincent Neal Ames also expressed concern about road damage from trucks and other equipment coming in on the private road during construction and from other commercial entities allowed to co-locate their equipment on the proposed tower.  
Ames also said he was concerned about a decrease in his residential property values due to the placement of the tower.
Matt Hornbaker said he was opposed to the commercial development in the residential neighborhood, noting that the restrictive covenants require that use be solely residential and further state that lots cannot be used for commercial purposes at all.
Pam Bramel said she was opposed to the request, saying that commercial development in the area is not supported by the county’s Comprehensive Plan.  
Sandra Covington and Theresa Perez likewise both stated they were each opposed to the request.
Rapisarda, representing AT&R, spoke in favor of the proposal.  
But Rapisarda also said he wanted to obtain a copy of the restrictive covenants so they could be addressed prior to the next public hearing on the request.  
The Planning Commission was informed that the issue of the commercial use violating the restrictive covenants is not under their purview.  
~ RESTRICTIVE COVENANTS      The Declaration of Restrictions and Covenants are recorded in Deed Book 290 pages 851 through 855.  
Page 853 states that commercial use is prohibited in the Hugger Tract.  The deed book also says that no unsightly materials of any kind are allowed which constitute a nuisance.  
Another paragraph states that it is the responsibility of each property owner to prevent the development of unsightly building and/or structures or grounds on their lot which shall tend substantially to decrease the beauty of the specific neighborhood.
Planning Commissioners were told that the county does not have jurisdiction over enforcement of restrictive covenants.      
Director of Community Development Jack Green said, “You need to make a decision based on whether they meet the review standards required and the zoning ordinance standards.”
Commission Chairman Josh Colwell clarified, saying, “The restrictive covenants are between the landowners, right?”
Green responded, saying, “Yes, but AT&T will have to address them.  I thought they had the covenants and had addressed them.”
Commissioner Gary Kendrick said, “I can understand and appreciate everything said by the neighbors.  But if I understand that everything meets the ordinance, there would be no basis for denying it, even if we wanted to.”
Commissioner Bill Robie disagreed, saying, “I think there are some grounds for denying it.”
Robie pointed to the review standards for special exceptions.  
He read, “It says, ‘Will not be detrimental to health, safety, morals and general welfare of the community involved.’  I think there is an argument to be made on that.”
Robie also pointed out two other standards, #8 and #9.  They are:  “The use shall not tend to change the character and established pattern or development of the area of the proposed use,” and “The use shall be in harmony with the uses permitted by right in the zoning district.”
Robie, who was the sole vote against recommending approval, also pointed out that the lot may not be the best area to site a cell tower, since it across Route 218 from Caledon Natural Area, which is an active eagle breeding area.
Bright, applicant for AT&T stated, “We have a criteria we have to work with. With this parcel, we can meet the special exception criteria.  It takes two things, meet the zoning requirements and find a willing landowner.”

Phyllis Cook, Staff Reporter

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