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FairfaxFairfax pushes pause button on proposed Wolf Trap monopole

Fairfax pushes pause button on proposed Wolf Trap monopole

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Fairfax County officials have “paused” their negotiations with an applicant over the proposed installation of a telecommunications monopole at Wolf Trap Fire Station.

Milestone Tower Limited Partnership IV had filed a special-exception application seeking to place an unmanned monopole and a 50-by-50-foot equipment area on the southeast corner of fire station’s parking lot at 1315 Beulah Road along the border between Vienna and Great Falls.

The facility – intended primarily for Verizon, but with room for equipment from AT&T, T-Mobile and DISH Network – would have been accessed by a 10-foot-wide gravel road and generated only a vehicle trip or two per month for maintenance, the applicant’s representative told Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) members at a March 15 meeting.

But Milestone and county officials could not reach an agreement regarding such a lease, and negotiations stalled.

The Board of Supervisors on May 4 unanimously agreed, at the request of Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville), to withdraw its June 23, 2020, consent for Milestone’s special-exception application. Supervisors also withdrew their authorization to have County Manager Bryan Hill or his designees to act as agents of the board in connection with the application.

“As a property owner, the county places a high value on community participation and feedback on projects located on its land and expects its potential tenants to provide the same level of commitment to soliciting public input,” Foust said.

Jennifer Falcone, who chairs GFCA’s Land-Use and Zoning Committee, viewed the board’s decision as a “positive step” toward recognizing neighbors’ concerns about the application.

“The bottom line is that having this action withdrawn is viewed favorably by the GFCA, as the proposed site of the monopole was not considered to be in harmony with the county’s comprehensive plan and [it] would have had detrimental impact on the immediate residential areas adjacent to the proposed site,” Falcone said. “No amount of screening would have camouflaged the structure that would have loomed over the rooftops of adjacent properties.”

GFCA’s board unanimously adopted a resolution opposing the monopole’s placement at the fire station and was planning to forward it to the county’s Planning Commission before the negotiations faltered. GFCA representatives also planned to testify against the application at the commission’s May 12 public hearing, but that one and the Board of Supervisors’ planned June 8 hearing will be deferred.

GFCA leaders thought the fire station’s residentially zoned site was inappropriate for the monopole, Falcone said. Small-cell technology and distributed-antenna systems are better ways of addressing inadequacies in the area’s cell-phone services, she said.

“This community’s semi-rural nature has enjoyed significant cell-phone improvements since that technology was implemented locally,” Falcone said.
The proposed pole would have been 114 feet tall using a plain design, but one disguised as a tree would have needed to be 8 feet taller.

Diane and Randy Schumacher, who live near the site, said a cellular tower at that location would not have been in harmony with surrounding residential uses or the county’s comprehensive plan.

“Just because we are close to Route 7, our homes and neighborhood should not be sacrificed for tall towers or buildings in our back yards,” the couple wrote in an e-mail to the Sun Gazette. “No amount of natural buffering would have screened a 114-foot tower from intruding into our homes. Less-intrusive cellular technologies exist today and are being deployed elsewhere in the county.”

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