Sperryville monopole OK’d; AT&T’s school site adjusted and delayed

Meeting before a partisan crowd of about 40 at the high school auditorium, the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors took two unanimous actions Monday night in the matter of two of AT&T’s five proposed cellular installations. One was unanticipated, the other clearly unwanted by those partisans.

After AT&T representative Edward Donohue explained that an alternate site for the proposed 199-foot monopole at the high school had been submitted earlier in the day — another 220-plus feet from the school and 150 feet farther from U.S. 211, a scenic highway — the supervisors voted to table the matter until their March meeting to give them, and the public, a chance to consider it.

And, after hearing the voices of 22 citizens, a majority urging the board to reject or delay AT&T’s application for a 199-foot pole off Woodward Road south of Sperryville, the supervisors voted unanimously, though by no measure gleefully, to approve the application.

Opponents at the hearing outnumbered those who spoke in favor of the Sperryville tower two to one, a dozen rising to speak against it, sometimes angrily, and half as many urging the supervisors to approve the special-use permit required of cellular carriers before they can build such a facility.

The Sperryville monopole is the second AT&T facility approved by the board; the first was approved last month for a wooded site off U.S. 522 near Boston. The high school tower, for which AT&T will pay the school board $14,400 a year in lease fees as well as provide its schools and offices broadband Internet service, now gets a public hearing at the supervisors’ March 7 meeting.

AT&T’s applications to extend existing Sprint towers in Ben Venue and behind the Amissville fire hall are to be considered by the county planning commission at its Feb. 16 meeting.

A balloon test for the relocated tower was still being arranged at press time; some thought the test, in which AT&T engineers float a balloon at the height of the tower to indicate its visibility, might occur this coming weekend.

Sperryville district supervisor Mike Biniek tried to float a motion to table the Sperryville application; there was no second. When Bryant Lee’s motion to approve it came up, Biniek took several long moments and sighed loudly before saying “Aye.”

Supervisor Chris Parrish apologized to those who live closest to the Sperryville tower. Several had spoken out against the 199-foot height, neighbor Jeb Wofford calling it “enormous” and “in your face.” He and several others left the auditorium after Parrish’s comment.

All five supervisors said they’d heard from many constituents who urged them not to reject AT&T’s plans, especially those who provide emergency services and those who spend significant time on the road.

Sheriff’s Maj. Scott Jenkins came to the microphone and suggested that citizens “try to work as hard for a solution to our emergency communications problems as you are working against these unsightly towers. Please try to keep an open mind. Communications is a need, not a want.”

Some who spoke at Monday’s hearing suggested the supervisors were afraid to reject the applications for fear of having to meet AT&T’s significant resources in a court challenge.

“I didn’t move out to Rappahannock County to be steamrolled,” said Frank Rader. “Now that we’re offering up our zoning ordinance to AT&T, what’s next? McDonald’s? Wal-Mart?”

“I have to say, for the record,” said County Administrator John W. McCarthy, after the public hearing ended, “that we are not chicken.”

That the supervisors a decade ago approved seven applications for cell towers by Sprint would make such a challenge unwinnable, he said.

The county’s zoning ordinance, McCarthy said, allows poles up to 199 feet — if their visible effect on scenic value is deemed acceptable. The zoning ordinance is based on the comprehensive plan cited by Piedmont Environmental Council representatives, the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection and others as the justification to reject AT&T’s proposals.

“The zoning ordinance is amended from time to time when the comprehensive plan is revised and updated every five years,” McCarthy said. “And for the past nine years, there’s been no effort to amend the zoning ordinance, which allows 199-foot towers.
“The notion that AT&T is not complying [with the ordinance] on the face of it is just not true,” he said.

Defending the supervisors who some in the crowd suggested were unwilling to “take on” AT&T, or to offer the company alternatives, McCarthy said: “It’s not fear. It’s the desire they have heard from the community to have better cell coverage.

“And as for alternatives — it’s the same process for someone who comes to the county to open a B&B. We can’t say to them, ‘We’ll approve it but we want you to go buy that house over there instead of the one you wanted, and open the B&B there.’

“We can’t find the best solution. Can the board say no? They can. Do I think they should? No.”

Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 545 Articles
Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.


  1. For the Driver named Sam:

    Tweet 1

    The culture has been swallowed up in sound bites and tweets (140 characters or less).

    Tweet 2

    I’m pretty sure by now that any real ability to focus beyond those parameters has atrophied.

    Tweet 3

    Attention Deficit Disorder is apparently epidemic. It is being reformatted as a desirable thing. In that context, patience means that you’re wasting time.

    Mr. Pagano

  2. “Mr. Driver”
    Ordinarily, I would agree that “less is more”, But in this case, you seem to have
    shown that less is indeed, less.
    Your logic is exceeded only by your, uh, wit.
    You know, the real majority in this cell tower boondoggle is the 55% of us who won’t be
    reached by the coverage.

    Ben Jones

  3. “Mr. Pagano,”

    I’d love to see you occasionally make your point using 140 characters or less (I won’t count white space, either, just characters and numbers).


    “Mr. Driver”

  4. To answer Mr. Pagano’s question, “I don’t know what’s up with that!” A lot of us have been trying to figure that out. It does seem that the customary way of conducting county business has not been honored in this case, when Mr. McCarthy seems to be the main advocate on AT&T’s behalf.
    Of course we need improved cellular service here. That may not be the position of some,
    and I understand their feelings, but most of us who oppose this just think that it is a very bad business deal for our county, and that there has been a rush to get this done that has provided no response to the many serious questions raised by those who seek common sense alternatives.
    New technology is here which makes AT&T’s proposal obsolete. Verizon will be testing the new Alcatel Lucent lightRadiocube this year, and it is anticipated to be a $16 billion boom
    in the next few years.(It seems that China is going for it.). That’s billion with a “b”. You can check it out beforeitsnews.com or just “google” Alcatel Lucent.
    This cozy relationship with AT&T makes me wonder “who is courting whom?” But what do I
    know? I am just a tax-paying citizen here who is starting to feel like the proverbial mushroom.
    You know, “kept in the dark and being fed a lot of……..”

    Ben Jones

  5. An odd thought for everyone to consider.

    In regards to the following quote from our County Administrator:

    “And as for alternatives — it’s the same process for someone who comes to the county to open a B&B. We can’t say to them, ‘We’ll approve it but we want you to go buy that house over there instead of the one you wanted, and open the B&B there.’

    Mr. McCarthy likened the AT&T application to someone who is buying property or already owns property and wants a permit for a B&B. He said the County couldn’t tell the person applying for a B&B that we would approve it if it was a different piece of property.

    Isn’t that exactly what we do?? We don’t say “the piece you want is inappropriate; but that piece over there is.” But that is exactly what we mean and exactly what the Special Exception use process allows us to do. And that is for people who are actual land owners in the County.

    Why have the applications from AT&T (more properly, from the Tower Building Company) been presented, packaged even, to seem as though they are equivalent to
    any other Special Exception Use application from any old citizen of the County?

    Neither the Tower building Company nor AT&T own any property here.

    The permits are NOT just like one applied for by any old Citizen. Further more, when any old regular Citizen applies for such a Special Exception Use Permit; the voices of the neighbors most directly effected by the possible approval are given more weight than anyone else’s; even more weight than the recommendation of The Planning Commission.

    What’s up with that???

    Mr. Pagano

  6. To all,

    There is a new cat out of the bag in this deal. Within two years, cell towers will be obsolete. Bell Labs has developed a very small cube with the capabilities of large tower transmission, and with less radiation.These cubes can be placed on flagpoles, chimneys, or old TV antennas and “presto” you’ve got coverage. The “lightRadiocube” from Bell Labs (who created AT&T’s technology) is introducing this advance today in Barcelona, and it will forever change cellular transmission. Quite simply, we the people of Rappahannock, do not have a contract to build cell towers with AT&T. We the People haven’t even seen the full proposal in print, especiallly the small print.

    This new “cube” system could provide safer and more comprehensive coverage, rather than the marginally improved, spotty coverage provided by the giant plug-ugly towers currently proposed. It would be unconscionable for our county government not to pursue this new information. Ms. Chovnick has been a very sane voice in this matter. Those of us who care about the long term, in which better cellular service brings full coverage and faster internet,( not to mention no adverse effect on our land and property values, and not to mention the possible health and safety issues) appreciate her speaking out about this.

    I really believe, as do many others, that my friends Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Welch need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better deal for all of us. Just sayin’, is all . . . .

    Ben Jones

  7. Mr. Rowe, as a teacher at the high school, I can assure you that I’m neither “rich” nor “idle”, and my concerns about the position of the cell phone tower are well-founded in science. Electromagnetic radiation has never been proven to be SAFE. In fact there is an overwhelming body of evidence suggesting the opposite. This is the primary reason that I am opposed to a cell tower going up at a school, of all places, being that children are much more susceptible to all toxic exposures than adults. Oh yeah, and I’d be happy to help you brush up on your Spanish and can attest to the charms of Chile.

    Brittany, I think that maybe you, like many others in the county, are under the erroneous assumption that opposition to these towers means opposition to cell phone service in general. Many of us simply believe that the locations being chosen are any or all of the following: 1) potentially dangerous, 2) potentially damaging to property values and 3) indisputably ugly. There are other locations that should be, but have not been, explored. Furthermore, being opposed to a cell tower at the school does not make me unsympathetic to fire and rescue services. Ironically, in 2004 the International Firefighters Association recommended that cell phone towers be banned from firehouses until close and prolonged exposure to electromagnetic radiation was proven to be safe. Apparently too many firefighters were experiencing serious side effects.

    I too have come to resent being constantly referred to as a “vocal minority”, since I’m not so sure the minority is really such a minority at all. I don’t dispute the fact that there is support for these towers, but please understand that many of us want better options. I agree with Mr. Jones and Mr. Pagano that we’re being “steam-rolled” by AT&T. It’s not unprecedented, just extremely disappointing to those of us who had hoped to arrive at a more satisfactory conclusion. Cell phone towers do not belong near schools or residences. There are many examples of counties across the nation standing up to the telecom industry, demanding better and safer placement of towers. I, like many others, had hoped we could follow suit. I still hope that the tower at the high school will find a better location, one that will not jeopardize the health of students and faculty.

  8. A news item from the AP last evening indicates that technology is outstripping the appropriateness or even desirability of Tall Tower based cellphone networks. Some one has suggested that we need not consider this because when it (the technology) is ready the Towers will come down; since in the permit we have made a condition to have them removed.

    Of course our strictures on the permits for AT&T towers doesn’t say that “when the technology comes along the towers will be removed.” What it says is a lot closer to “when you no longer have anyone using them for whatever purpose they may be used, then you are required to take them down within two years of no one still using them.”

    That would be a BIG difference!

    (No one has mentioned whether or not there is anything about what sort of cleanup of the base and foundation will be required. No indication that there is a requirement of restoration to before construction condition.)

    A Large multinational corporation is not going to change their vested infrastructure because it can be done with less intrusive antennae and attendant equipment; This is especially true in less populated areas where they aren’t experiencing the extreme overload from heavy usage that the Tall Tower Network architecture is prone to in high density areas. To change over involves actually changing the entire architecture of ones network. Once installed those Towers are with us longer than many of us will be alive, perhaps even throughout the lives of our children. Possibly longer.

    Mr. Pagano

  9. For Brittney and Ben particularly..

    I think that the whole point is that if there is an impression (and from conversations I have had, it is not just myself and Ben) that what is seen, perceived, has more behind it than is presented to the eye; and whether it is a real and intended act or not makes no difference. It leaves the whole process in question. That is the whole reason that process is important and that fairness, thoroughness and consistency are critical elements. Whether there is A record of those calls and letters is not the issue. Whether those records are equivalent to and a part of the record of a Public Hearing is. And even more important is that in similar matters, things weren’t handled the same as they have been in this matter. They have not been.

    This has not been, at least from my perspective, a question of whether having much improved cell coverage is or isn’t desirable for the citizens and visitors to the county. To simply characterize it that way trivializes the fact that the values we all have on various aspects of quality of life are different. It also trivializes the role we all have as Trustees. And it also marginalizes the latitude that is provided by law to our Supervisors in the review and clarification and possible approval or denial of any Special Exception Use Application.

    It isn’t like what the AT&T towers will provide is going to address all the things you have pointed out, Brittney. So being against immediate approval is not the same thing as opposition to getting what we all seem to acknowledge would be good. It isn’t a simple matter of those for cell service coverage, and those against.

    Back to the Public Hearing issue. Regardless of what John McCarthy has for the “file” record; is that the same as the Public Hearing record? I don’t believe it is. What is more, the issue isn’t a simple matter of those for and those against. The duty of the Board of Supervisors in a matter of this nature isn’t to be a vote taker. Their responsibilities go far beyond that.

    Mr. Pagano

  10. Hi Ben,

    I meant no harm or harshness in responding here today either. I hope you do continue to write your opinions. I’ve always been a firm believer in everyone having theirs. I might not always agree with what is said or how but it is healthy to have a voice. I simply made my reasoning and established a few answers for the previous comments. As for the communications made to the supervisors (emails,letters, calls etc.) maybe cantact Bryant about how to obtain a number in reference to people in favor/agaisnt. I wish you the best, hope all finds you and yours well.


  11. Hey Brittney,

    Lighten up. It’s me, your friend Ben Jones. Your dad Bryant is my Supervisor and I think the world of him. But I still think we got rolled.

    I look forward to seeing the public record of the communications to the Supervisors.

    No hard feelings. I will be writing more about why I feel as I do. And as i have very often written, we are indeed a great county because of the foresight of those who went before us here. But I don’t like the way this came down, and I, like you, have the right to make my case.

    Best wishes,

  12. I must first start by saying that I find it astounding for anyone to say that Rappahannock’s local government has been “rolled”. It is because of this local government and the citizens born and raised here, that this glorious county we live in has stayed as true as it is. I agree primarily with Mr. Driver and Mr. Day in their comments on the issue.

    As a part of the “younger” generation, Rappahannock native as well as “middle class,” I have to say that my reasoning for the towers is for the community in general. There are many accidents in the past 10 years that have occurred among the back roads. Whether it be because of deer, another driver, or the weather it would have been beneficial for the victims to have reliable cell coverage for their phones. It gives them the chance, if injured, to reach help with the local emergency units.

    What about the tourists who come through and help to support our local business? I cannot mention how many have broken down and need call a tow truck? (Settle’s, Shaw’s, etc.) They have to wait for someone to stop on the side of the road or walk to the nearest house. This also might be more efficient for those members of the county who are struggling with the economy at this time to remove the land line and save money like many have who already receive the cell coverage in the area. These are tough times and every penny counts.

    We are not changing the zoning to accommodate Wal-Mart, Applebee’s or even grocers. We are not looking to put towers on every fifty acres owned. This is not the case. We are simply allowing our community to be established with an accessible tower which might help to strengthen our community. The board is not embarking on a mission to destroy our way of life but to just make it simpler. It is the choice of a landowner in the community to place the tower upon their land and make a profit if approved.

    On another note, and to straighten out the facts, when it comes to the phone calls, letters, etc. that each side has come upon doing at one time or another. Every representative of each district is required to keep notes on phone calls and all letters received during the case at question in case called upon. When needed there is an actual tally that is done on what has been received and is submitted to our county administrator John McCarthy for the public to view. For more information on this topic I suggest contacting your local representative or other county officials just as I have done.

  13. Mr. Rowe,
    I am not an environmental activist. I am not against cellphones. I want faster internet service.
    I travel over 100,000 miles a year in my work. I spend 16 hours a day on my livelihood. But I
    think this was not a good deal for our community, and I have expressed that. Your constant
    pedantic characterizations about anyone who doesn’t agree with your positiion are false, in my opinion. You say that only “two dozen” opponents turned out to speak against this proposal. But even fewer turned out to speak for it. By that measure, it should have been tabled.
    So knock it off, o.k. You got your way. The towers are going up. And you are going to Chile,
    according to your website. Adios, Ben

  14. Do a majority of the people here support AT&T in their proposal? Of course they do. 7,000 people live here and less than two dozen turned out and have turned out to speak against the proposal. And it’s the same group of activists who have nothing else to do. The rest of us were at work or commuting where we dearly need our cell phones to stay in touch with our families, clients, and emergency services. As for the generous lease payments offered by AT&T and free internet service for the school and school board building that’s almost enough money to retain one more teacher instead of lay them off.

  15. Mr. Driver tells us that there is indeed evidence that a majority of our citizens want
    the AT&T plan. He says that he and others called the Supervisors. Well, Sam, that is not
    evidence of anything except that both sides expressed their opinion, as well they should
    on an issue of this magnitude. Both sides called their Supervisors. As Mr. Pagano points us, that and two bucks will about get you a cup of coffee these days.
    At this point, I will resort to quoting Schiller: “With stupidity, the gods themselves struggle in vain.”
    Is that elitist? Snarky? Stupid?


  16. I think it is really nice that people called their Supervisors and spoke to them. So, what exactly is the purpose of a Public Hearing?

    It is required by Law that citizens have an opportunity to speak. Once that requirement is met, then what?

    All those phone calls: are they on the public record? Is there a legal tally? If its a Public Hearing why aren’t those letters and documentation of those calls entered into the Hearing Records? When people engage to the point that they go out of their way to physically participate; and when the majority that get THAT involved are opposed to what is before the Board as a Special Exception Use, and those public speakers are what is “the record” of the required Public Hearing; And yet the extent of the process is NOT completely fulfilled, and the application is passed; then there is a problem afoot.

    Process IS important.

    When strong opposition is present in an issue such as this then it is poor representation at best to not have our Representatives exercise every aspect of the latitude that is granted our local government. The rush to approval in the face of strong opposition predominantly expressed by actual presence of participating citizens calls into question the entire idea that people should engage at all and that Public Hearings have any meaning at all.

    The failure to treat both applications the same: tabling them; that was more than poor. To have done so would cost neither the applicant nor the Board and it would have been far better than acting like the whole matter was something that needed to be done quickly, or worse….

    It is nice that Mr. McCarthy carefully explained how 199 foot structures are acceptable under the Zoning ordinance governing Cell Service Applications. He should also have emphasized that just because that height limit is included as possible, the ordinance and process in no way says an application for such an installation MUST be approved and the latitude rests fully with them to say so.

    I thank both Supervisors Mike Biniek and Chris Parrish for their individual efforts to come closer to fulfilling the process than the rest.

    Ben Jones is more than right when he says we’ve been “rolled”.

    The process has been “rolled”.

    The respect for it and the local government Representatives themselves has been “rolled” and,

    I believe,

    irrevocably tarnished.

    Mr. Pagano

  17. Wow!

    This a major step forward into the 21st century and something that may benefit the middle class (what’s left of it) in my old hometown. Rappahannock should be commended for waiting out the industrial revolution (300 years or so) until something cleaner came along (tech-mology). It’s both “clean” and accessible to those who haven’t been born with a silver spoon in their mouths.

    “Clean is good”. Now on to some more cleanliness: like removing the livestock from the “oh-so pristine” natural waterways like the Hazel, the Thornton, The Covington, The Rush, The Jordon, etc, etc and all their tributaries. This will go a long way to alleviate the destruction of the Chesapeake Bay and will send a message to the those watching that you really do care about the environment and not just the wealthy.


    Vincent Day

  18. “There is absolutely NO EVIDENCE that a majority of our people wanted this deal”


    Well, those of us who support the proposal made the effort to communicate that sentiment to our respective supervisors via phone call, letter, etc. There are indeed quite a number of folks who want this telecommunications infrastructure in the county and instead of wasting time arguing with opponents on Rappnet or sitting through meetings, we communicated our support to those who make the decisions. There is a reason why both the planning commission and the BOS are approving these tower applications with unanimous or near unanimous votes: THOSE OF US WANT MODERN TELECOMMUNICATIONS IN RPK ARE LETTING THE ELECTED OFFICIALS KNOW.

    We do not want to wait 10 years for the next proposal and do not want to see the current one shot down by a vocal, highly motivated minority.

  19. Well, the inviitation at the top sez “start the ball rolling by posting a comment on this article.”
    My comment would be that our county has just been “rolled” into a deal that is an unconscionable
    disaster for those who care about the ambience, the character, the tradiition, and the integrity of
    our county and an embarassment to the working of local government. This is a f%&&***##!!!1 disgrace.
    There is absolutely NO EVIDENCE that a majority of our people wanted this deal, or that it will
    solve any problems that our county currently has. I’m too old to care about the sensibilities of
    politicians and too stupid to hold my tongue. So, to tell you the truth I am disappointed and disgusted by the way this has been done, and by the results which will forever change our way of life..
    It has been an exercise in backroom politics and dissembling presentations. Arrogance. Hubris.
    Bullstuff. I could go on, but I think I have made my point……

    Ben Jones

Comments are closed.