WINCHESTER — The Frederick County Planning Commission voted 7-4 on Wednesday night to recommend the Board of Supervisors amend county code to make small telecommunications towers a by-right use.
Currently, all commercial telecommunication towers require a conditional-use permit (CUP). The proposed change would enable small telecommunications facilities to be a by-right use, if they are no more than 50 feet in height from the ground. Telecommunications towers more than 50 feet in height can still be built, but they would need a CUP.
The change aims to improve internet service in the county and to comply with recent changes to state code.
About 50 residents attended the meeting, with roughly 20 speaking in objection to the proposed amendment. Many mistakenly believed it would require existing towers over 50 feet to be taken down and that additional restrictions would be added.
Commission member Roger Thomas said that isn’t the case and that “an awful lot of misinformation” is out there.
He explained the amendment would enable additional towers to be built in the county without a CUP.
Several residents, especially those in the Back Creek District, complained about the quality of their current broadband service, saying that the internet is vital for telecommuting and their children’s homework assignments. Some even suggested raising the by-right use height from 50 to 100 feet or more, saying 50 feet may not be tall enough to provide good service is some areas of the county.
Others said they would rather see a couple of very large towers instead of dozens of small ones.
Commission member Gary Oates said towers over 50 feet might need flashing lights. He said part of the process in applying for a CUP is submitting tower designs to review agencies.
“Once you get above that 50-feet mark, a lot of regulations kick in,” Oates said.
Planning Commission Chairman Kevin Kenney and members William Cline, Gary Oates, Roger Thomas, Alan Morrison, Charles Triplett and Christopher Mohn voted in favor of recommending the supervisors approve the amendment.
Commission members Lawrence Ambrogi, Paige Manuel, Robert Molden and Kay Dawson voted against it. Greg Unger was absent.
The matter will go before the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 11.
Also at the meeting, the commission voted unanimously to recommend changing aspects of the county’s zoning ordinance dealing with landscaping, buffer and screening; off-street parking, and requirements for certain uses. Most of the changes fix inconsistencies with other sections of the code. One proposed change would prevent facilities for tractor-trailer parking being next to residential uses. Another proposed change deals with special event facilities, which currently require a building permit. The change would enable a county building official to decide if the facility needs a permit or if it is exempt.
The matter goes before the board on Dec. 11.