Clarke commissioners discuss tower limits

Posted: October 2, 2013

The Winchester Star

BERRYVILLE — Most of Tuesday’s Clarke Planning Commission work session was taken up by a discussion on whether the county should change its 100-foot height limitation on telecommunications towers.

The county has heard from Verizon that it would like to put up four more towers rising to 130 feet to improve service along Harry Byrd (Va. 7) and John Mosby (U.S. 50) highways.

Several commission members reported problems getting cellphone and wireless Internet service in a number of sections of the county.

“At what point are we going to let aesthetics dominate the living community,” asked commissioner Robina Bouffault. Both young people and small businesses need high speed Internet. “It’s a fact of life.”

Some of her fellow commissioners agreed.

Where many were against tall poles on the skyline a decade ago, “Technology changes and so does our attitude,” said Thomas McFillen.

Commissioner Scott Kreider agreed that the county’s current ordinance is out of date. However, he said, Verizon’s request for either taller towers or more of them wouldn’t solve the problem of access for many residents.

The cellphone companies appear most interested in serving commuters on the county’s main roads, not those who live here, he said.

“You can’t force AT&T or Verizon to put a tower in the middle of the county.”

Commissioner Clay Brumback admitted there are trouble spots in the county, but he believes it is up to those who live in those areas to solve their own access issues.

“If you need line of sight, cut a tree,” he said.

In 10 years, technology may have changed again and towers could be unnecessary, he said. And, if you allow 130-foot towers, “where do you stop?”

The commissioners asked County Planning Director Brandon Stidham to check with other counties in the state to see how they are handling such requests and to seek more information from Verizon on what sort of coverage it has in various areas of the county to see where gaps exist.

The commissioners spent 20 minutes behind closed doors with county attorney Robert Mitchell.

Stidham said the commissioners had questions concerning the request for a special-use permit for a kennel operation west of Boyce, which will be on the agenda to set a public hearing on Friday.

Attending the meeting in the Joint Government Center were Vice Chairman Anne Caldwell and commissioners Thomas McFillen, Robina Bouffault, Scott Kreider, William “Chip” Steinmetz, Jon Turkel, Douglas Khrum and Supervisor John Staelin. Clifford Nelson and George Ohrstrom were absent.

— Contact Val Van Meter at vvanmeter@winchesterstar.com