Citizens react to proposed Sperryville communications tower, Amissville security training site

A jam-packed agenda — and courtroom — at this past week’s Rappahannock County Planning Commission meeting stretched nerves, patience, and time.

A third of the nearly four-hour meeting was taken up by the public hearing into an application for a permit to construct a communications tower on Woodward Road in Sperryville. Community Wireless Structures (CWS) based in Arlington applied for a Personal Wireless Services Facility Use Permit for the self-supporting lattice tower.

After more than an hour-and-a-half that included a presentation by Hope McCreary of CWS, public comment and discussion among the planners, the permit was approved by unanimous vote. (At its July 2 meeting, the Board of Supervisors approved a resolution authorizing Chair Roger Welch to execute a lease agreement with CWS for tower space on the proposed tower for the Sperryville fire and rescue paging antenna).

Siting and building the tower has been a closely followed issue for many months, especially among the county’s fire and rescue organizations, who have often warned county officials about the failing communications and paging systems vital for first responders.

Of the 18 members of the community who spoke during the hearing, seven represented the fire and rescue squads. They described instances of missed emergency calls due to what Paul Komar, president of the Rappahannock Fire and Rescue Association, called an “antiquated” system.

“For us,” Komar said, “[a reliable] paging system is critical.”

Larry Grove, president of the Sperryville Volunteer Fire Department and Harold Beebout with the Sperryville Rescue Squad also spoke in support of the tower, telling planners that a the current paging system drops a significant percentage of emergency calls to fire and rescue personnel after a resident calls.

“If nothing goes out on the system,” said Beebout, “there can be no response [to an emergency call.]”

Hazards training

Mike Blyth, co-owner of RSM Corp., a security training company based in Manassas, presented in a public hearing his reworked special exception permit application to establish an outdoor school in Amissville. At the school, proposed for an 84-acre parcel on Shurgen Lane, Blyth and others would conduct security training for people and organizations posted in warzones and other hazardous areas of the world.

Blyth originally applied for a permit to operate from the 39-acre Old Kennels property off of Crest Hill and North Poes roads. The Planning Commission tabled that application at its March and April meetings after considerable opposition from the public. The planners encouraged Blyth to find a more suitable location.

At the July 18 public hearing, Blyth reiterated several of the points he had made previously — the property would be in use one to two week days a month during the warm months and participants numbering around 30 would be driven in and out each day in two vehicles. In addition, he explained that no live ammunition would be used. Instead, low-noise blanks would be used during firearms instruction.

“You’d have to be Superman to hear blanks [being shot] in a forest,” Blyth said.

In response to comments from neighbors who spoke at the meeting, he promised to work with residents on Shurgen Lane to maintain the road and not allow others to use the property. He also said he would remove portable toilets “immediately after [each] training.”

One county resident asked if RSM activities would interfere with fall and spring hunting season. A game warden in the audience noted that hunting seasons open on Saturdays, not week days when RSM would be training on the property.

Nonetheless, respecting the opening of hunting season was a condition the planners placed on the application before voting unanimously to recommend it to the BOS.

Dulcimer museum?

The planners voted unanimously to recommend that the Board of Supervisors approve a dulcimer museum for the circa 1740s Old Estes Mill off Route 211 on the west side of Sperryville. Local musician and filmmaker John Hallberg applied to the county in June for a special exception permit to adapt the structure into a museum to house what he characterizes as “one of the top collections of [Appalachian] dulcimers in the world.”

In addition to creating the museum, Hallberg, who lives in Jenkins Hollow, hopes to establish an intimate venue on the mill property for live music — indoors during the cold months and in a small amphitheater made of mobile staging during the warm times of year.

The planners, though enthusiastic about Hallberg’s plans for the museum, had concerns about parking, septic capacity, and noise.

Ultimately, the planners voted to move the application for the adaptive use of the building forward to the BOS, but suggested Hallberg defer his plans for music performances to a later date.

In other matters, the planners:

  • Welcomed the newest members of the Planning Commission: Sherry Cillo from Piedmont district and Rick Kohler from Jackson.
  • Voted unanimously — despite significant neighbor opposition — to recommend permanent approval of a special exception permit Greg Williams of Williams Tree Service has had since 2007 to operate his woodlot on Ben Venue Road.
  • Voted unanimously to recommend to the Board of Zoning Appeals Dawn Zook’s special use permit application for a tourist home in Huntly.
  • Voted unanimously to recommend for BZA consideration a special use permit application from Susan Cox for a tourist home located on Water Street in Sperryville.
  • Held a preliminary review of a special exception application from RappU to move its operations from its current location at Sperryville Trading to space in the Sperryville School House. The planners voted unanimously to recommend a public hearing.
  • Heard from County Administrator Garrey Curry about land use planning topics the BOS would like the planners to review, including short term rentals, outdoor signage, solar and wind farms, and golf driving ranges.
  • Heard a presentation from CWS representative Hope McCleary and Shentel engineer Jamie Dennis, in which they explained that Shentel would become a Sprint PCS affiliate, expanding cell coverage through large parts of Virginia.
  • Reviewed updated statistical information prepared by the Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Commission for the county’s comprehensive plan.

An unedited video of the Planning Commission 7:30 p.m. session on Wednesday, July 18 can be found online at rappnews.com/video, or on the newspaper’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/RappNewsPlus. The meeting agenda and related documents are online at boarddocs.com/va/corva/Board.nsf/Public.

About Patty Hardee 237 Articles
Writer, consultant, actor, director, recovering stand-up comic, Patty covers the county’s courts and other topics of interest for Rappahannock News. She lives with her grape-growing husband Bill Freitag in Flint Hill.

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