Planning Commission defers cell tower

The Planning Commission will wait another month to decide whether a property on East Hundred Road is the right place for a 158-foot communications tower.

“I want to make sure we’re not putting a tower up where we don’t need it,” said Bermuda District Commissioner Sam Hassen, who recommended deferral of the case after hearing two very different descriptions of the applicant’s wireless coverage in the area.

The monopole tower would have internally mounted antennas and be what is commonly called a “slick stick,” said Planning and Special Projects Manager Robert Clay. The closest residence is 600 feet from the proposed site, which is located on the south line of East Hundred Road, east of Rivers Bend Boulevard. A heavily wooded area separates the site from the residences, he said.

Brennen Keene, an attorney representing the applicant, Richmond 20 MHz LLC doing business as nTelos, said the nature of wireless is changing. It’s becoming the predominant form of communication, he said, and that’s what’s driving the changes in the industry.

The property is zoned general business with conditions, he said, and the tower conforms to other uses in the immediate area, including Chester Furniture Barn and a Sheetz.

The 150-foot tower will have an 8-foot lightening rod, he said. The 150-foot height was picked to provide the coverage but be less visible to surrounding properties.

The company believes this is the best tower site in the area, he said.

Sean Warner, of the Chesterfield Downs community, said neither of two balloon tests intended to demonstrate the tower’s potential height and visibility were conducted at the proposed site.

“We haven’t had a true depiction of where it’s going to be,” he said. A petition opposing the sign had been signed by 43 residents of the subdivision, he said, and they would like to see alternative sites for the tower.

Mark Nicol, of Back Stretch Court, said the company’s website has coverage maps that don’t indicate the lack of coverage shown on maps presented by Keene.

“I’m not seeing that lapse of coverage that was represented earlier,” he said, displaying the maps for the Planning Commission.

Keene said the balloon test had to take place 60 feet from the actual site because of trees at the site; the community was made aware of that at a meeting. And, AT&T and T-Mobile are also seeking tower sites in this area, he said.

“The bottom line is nTelos is not the only provider looking for a site in this area,” he said. “There’s still a coverage issue. … Wireless companies don’t just develop these sites for the joy of it.”

Hassen said the map shown by the speaker made it appear there was good existing coverage in the area. The map made him question whether the proposed tower was needed.

“What I can say is the maps in the packet show a clear gap in the quality of coverage in this area,” Keene said. There are no commitments at this time for other companies to put antennas on the tower, but there’s no reason to believe they won’t, he said.

Hassen said several sites were considered, and he’d come to the meeting prepared to recommend approval of the request.

“This is the best site,” he said, but he now wondered whether the coverage area was as weak as the application indicated. He recommended a 30-day deferral of the matter.

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