In 1962, forward-thinking leaders in Rappahannock County adopted a zoning ordinance that would help protect the scenic and rural aspects of this county. Landowners throughout the county voluntarily down-zoned their properties to protect the county from being suburbanized. Since then, private landowners have voluntarily protected more than 28,500 acres of land through voluntary conservation easements that protect the scenic nature of the county. Our Comprehensive Plan sums up this intense passion by stating that “we the people of Rappahannock declare it to be a ‘scenic county’ and all goals, principles, and policies will reflect and devolve from this fundamental recognition.”
Now AT&T wants to put a 199-foot monopole at the high school that would be seen by everyone who drives down U.S. 211, a scenic byway, whether on their way to the mountains on vacation or on their way home from work. Look up to catch that hard-won, beautiful mountain view and behold, a nearly 200-foot pole lofting ahead, complete with up to 48 six-foot antennae attached.
The current AT&T applications for cell facilities in the county are completely out of character with everything the county has declared important in our Comprehensive Plan and flatly ignores all the hard work citizens have put into conserving a community that does not look like Anywhere, U.S.A. The applications pay no heed to concerns based on the scenic character of the county despite the ordinance that lists “minimizing the adverse effects of community and the land” as a stated purpose when regulating such facilities.
The applicant ignores specific sections of the ordinance that require mitigating the effects to residents, scenic byways, highways, and historic districts. In fact, AT&T does not even acknowledge in the applications that these resources exist.
There is no reason that cell phone service needs to be synonymous with 199-foot structures. Sprint is currently using a series of shorter towers to serve the area between the high school and Amissville. AT&T could provide coverage by co-locating on these facilities at their existing, or near existing, heights. Instead they are proposing a 199-foot monopole at the high school, as well as extending the currently hidden Grimsley tower across from the old e-cow location from its current height at 80 feet to a considerably taller 144 feet. Meanwhile, all over the commonwealth, cell providers are installing shorter monopoles, utilizing existing buildings and providing cell service without installing 200-foot monoliths.
Far from this being a badge of honor for entering the 21st century, the current plan, if adopted, signals turning back the clock on scenic protections in the county, and would set a dangerous precedent in which the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors ignore the intent of the Comprehensive Plan and fail to enforce sections of their own zoning ordinance.
Call your planning commissioner and supervisor today to tell them to deny these applications that would needlessly relinquish our hard-fought gains in scenic protection. There are multiple options for cell sites and designs that would respect both the desire for cell service and the desire to remain a scenic county.
Land Conservation Officer
Piedmont Environmental Council