The Planning Commission tabled an application by AT&T last Wednesday for its recommendation to the Rappahannock County supervisors on the first of several cell towers AT&T wants to build in the county — to allow anyone interested to attend a “balloon test” now scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 4.
Though one of the commission’s better-attended regular meetings — about two dozen members of the public sat on the courthouse benches, half of them getting up to speak — the process was clearly different than the last time a telecommunications company decided it wanted to build towers here.
That company was Sprint, and the series of fractious hearings almost a decade ago — one of which, moved to the high school to accommodate attendees, went on until 1:30 in the morning — eventually resulted in significant modifications to Sprint’s original plans.
Concerns about the effect of cell towers on the county’s scenic value — an asset codified in the county’s Comprehensive Plan and credited with the steady rise of tourism, if not real estate values — were generally offset at last week’s public hearing by concerns about safety and the county’s economic future — in more than a few cases by the same speaker.
The balance — scenic beauty and technology — needs to be considered, as former Planning Commission member Tom Tepper told the commissioners. “But Rappahannock is ready to enter the 21st century,” he said. “I know that you will remain the good stewards that we know you are, and consider approving this application.”
“I tend to think of this like the electric lines and telephone poles that go across my property,” said Gary Schmalenberg of Boston, where AT&T’s first tower is planned. “They really are not very nice-looking — but, well, the people behind me need electricity.”
The balloon test — in which AT&T contractors will float a balloon at 199 feet, approximating the planned height of the tower — is 8 to 10 a.m. Dec. 4. (Bad weather date: Dec. 11.) The commission will take up the application again at its Dec. 15 meeting.