Culpeper’s ‘red light district’

A monster steel-lattice cell tower is looming in our future. In Boston, 255 feet tall and just off U.S. 522 on Culpeper’s far western border. It is meant to improve the poor cell phone coverage in that area.

Barely lower than the Capitol Dome. Almost half the height of the Washington Monument. Twice the allowable height (130 feet) of buildings in D.C. We’re talking a 26-story-high, not-so-mini Eiffel Tower — without any of the charm. It would be topped by a flashing strobe by day and multiple blinking red lights by night — all in what is arguably the prettiest corner of Culpeper County, the wedge that juts into Rappahannock and Madison counties. It will be visible far and wide. The tens of thousands of tourists who come here to enjoy nature are going to love it.

By chance, I learned of this proposal on the eve of the Oct. 12 Culpeper County Planning Commission hearing. I went to my Old Stillhouse Road neighbors whose view of the Blue Ridge would be brutally affected. Not a single one had heard of the tower. All were appalled. Only the few adjoining property owners were sent a letter a few days before the hearing. Is there not a moral requirement to allow those who would be affected — not just aesthetics but also property values — to have their views known?

Many at the hearing spoke in favor of the tower’s promise of improved cell coverage. They had been well organized. An inside job, apparently. But that’s how these things are done and sprung on an unsuspecting community. We all want to have better coverage. But I question whether they and the county have considered other ways to achieve the same goal while minimizing the impacts.

The company that wants to build the tower originally applied for a 195-foot monopole (a single pole) without lights. But when they found they were pushing on an open door, they decided to go for broke. What is going to be broken and blighted is our God-given countryside. Irreparably.

Our task now should be to see if the community’s shared objectives here can be achieved while preserving as much of the natural landscape as possible. In Europe, cell phones don’t need cell towers. The signal comes from satellites. Supposedly, that’s coming here within a few years. In the meantime, would not lower towers do the trick? I’d accept one on my land — or on any of the 10 sites already designated by the county for cell towers.

At the hearing it was pointed out that the proposed tower would violate a number of (apparently waivable) county regulations and would not be in any of the designated areas for cell towers. The planning commission noted that the proposal left a number of essential questions unanswered. Despite all of this, and swayed by the support expressed by most there, they voted unanimously in favor.

With so many questions, technical and practical, up in the air and so many interested citizens yet unheard from, it is devoutly to be hoped that the Culpeper Board of Supervisors will not rush to judgment on this.

John Feeney

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