BOS approves tower lease for public safety paging system

Planners to consider CWS zoning application; hold public hearing

After months of deliberations, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution last week that will allow the county to sign a lease agreement with Community Wireless Structures to put its public safety paging system on a proposed tower off Woodward Road.

“I believe that time is of the essence, and I do believe we don’t have any other options here,”

said Supervisor Chris Parrish before moving to adopt the resolution.

Courtesy photo
A tower CWS constructed earlier this year near the town of Boston in Culpeper County. It’s the same height (195′ with a 4′ lightning rod) and same style (lattice) as the structure proposed for Sperryville.

The board has had multiple discussions in recent months over the lease terms and location of the proposed tower, which is needed to support Sperryville Fire and Rescue’s paging antenna. At a board meeting last month, supervisors agreed for County Administrator Garrey Curry and County Attorney Art Goff to negotiate lease terms with CWS and request that the company consider relocating its proposed tower further off the road.

In a letter, CWS declined the request, saying it chose that specific location to “maximize elevation, avoid sloping terrain and facilitate access to the tower compound.” The company, which already has a ground lease for the spot, also noted that it has spent “significant” time and money to determine the site’s viability.

CWS has a lease in place with fixed wireless internet provider Piedmont Broadband, a letter of intent from Sprint affiliate Shentel and is working to secure a second cellular carrier, T-mobile, to utilize the tower for mobile, wireless and broadband services. Given that interest, CWS has sought a zoning permit even without the county’s commitment.

Having multiple users would reduce the county’s rent, which under the terms of the lease agreement would start at $950 a month if no other cellular providers are included as tenants and drop to $0 if there are three or more other lessors.

The alternative to approving the lease would be for the county to build a separate tower solely for the fire and rescue paging system at an estimated cost of $250,000.

“The main thing is we don’t have the expense of the tower to start with,” Parrish told the Rappahannock News. “If this goes through, we essentially get a paging system for free.”

The planning commission is currently considering a zoning application submitted by CWS for the tower. It will hold a public hearing at the next planning commission meeting followed by another public hearing at the BOS meeting in August. The planning commission can issue a recommendation to build the tower, but the final decisions will come from the BOS.

The proposed location on Woodward Road has met some resistance from residents who worry it will ruin their views, harm property values and possibly their health.

“A cell tower 800 feet across Woodward Road could decrease the value of our property upwards of 25 percent if we try to sell . . . and would make it difficult for us to rent one of our homes,” Mike Luthi, who lives across the street from the proposed site and relies on money from a rental unite there to supplement his limited income, said at last week’s BOS meeting.

CWS recently launched a balloon at the site to demonstrate the tower’s height. Luthi said the test was not an accurate representation of its visual impact.

He urged the BOS to separate the need for a paging system tower from one for cellular service. “One tower is to help in saving lives, and we consider that a necessity, we have no problem with that,” he said. “The other one will do nothing but create a financial burden for our family.”

Several members of Sperryville’s Volunteer Rescue Squad spoke at the BOS meeting about the urgency of updating an aging paging system one described as held together by bubblegum and Duct Tape.

“The equipment is obsolete,” said Lieutenant Todd Summers. “We’re using borrowed parts to keep together the emergency support system for this county.”

“We often simply don’t get emergency pages,” said Harold Beebout, chief of Sperryville’s Volunteer Rescue Squad.

An earlier proposal to locate a tower on the Sperryville Volunteer Fire Department property was rejected because the land was dubbed structurally unsound. The BOS has reviewed other potential sites for the tower but determined that the cost to use the CWS site combined with its paging coverage makes it a favorable location.

Sara Schonhardt
About Sara Schonhardt 20 Articles
Sara Schonhardt is the summer fellow for Foothills Forum. A former staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal in Indonesia, Sara reported from around Southeast Asia for more than 10 years for the International Herald Tribune, Christian Science Monitor and Voice of America, among others. Her most recent reporting has focused on rural communities in southern Ohio.