Planning Commission Approves AT&T Building Atop Short Hill

AT&T will be allowed to construct a 160,000-square-foot building on top of Short Hill mountain unless the Board of Supervisors overturns a Planning Commission decision.

The communications company already has a massive underground switching station in a cleared lot on 176 acres on the ridge north of Hillsboro. The commission last week granted a permit to allow a new facility up to 35 feet tall on top of the existing facility. [See staff report here.]

The company has committed to a long-term invasive plant removal plan, planting a screen of trees, and to paint the building in green and brown in attempt to lessen the visual intrusion. But residents in northwestern Loudoun and some planning commissioners opposed the plan.

Former Planning Commission Chairman Al Van Huyck, speaking for the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition, opposed the commission permit. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)
Former Planning Commission Chairman Al Van Huyck, speaking for the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition, opposed the commission permit. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

Former planning commission chairman Al Van Huyck, speaking for the Loudoun County

Preservation and Conservation Coalition, said the structure will be visible for “decades to come,” and that the building would be visible from both the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship, much of which is planned for a state park.

Commissioner Eugene Scheel (Catoctin) also objected to the facility, saying AT&T had not given enough public notice.

“Why was there no contact of people who lived on the eastern side of Short Hill?” Scheel asked. “This facility, if built, would be visible from the entire Loudoun Valley, and yet there was no attempt.”

He said the technical language in the published public notices was “gobbledygook—you couldn’t understand them.”

Lindsay Mohler, a Lovettsville resident, said she only heard about the application the morning before the commission’s April 25 meeting.

AT&T Short Hill Complex
AT&T Short Hill Complex

Gem Bingol, representing the Piedmont Environmental Coalition, also objected. “Is there not a better place for a regional facility than the top of one of our mountains?”

Because the new building was not included in the 1962 commission permit application that allowed the underground facility, the company was required to get another permit. The commission voted 6-2 to grant the request, with Commissioners Scheel and Dan Lloyd (Sterling) opposed and Robert Klancher (Ashburn) absent. Board of Supervisors can affirm or overturn the commission’s action

“I understand that people want a beautiful viewshed,” said Commissioner Kathy Blackburn (Algonkian). “The thing is, the only way you can have a perfect, pristine viewshed is to purchase all of

the viewshed. You don’t own the viewshed. You can enjoy it, but you don’t own it. You’ll have to buy it all in order to keep it the way you want it.”

Planning Commissioner Charlie Douglas (Blue Ridge) said the commission had to answer only whether the proposed facility fit within the county’s general plan—and that it does. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)
Planning Commissioner Charlie Douglas (Blue Ridge) said the commission had to answer only whether the proposed facility fit within the county’s general plan—and that it does. (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

“This is a commission permit, and under the comprehensive plan, some of the very skinny guidelines are: does it meet with the General Plan?” said Commissioner Charlie Douglas (Blue Ridge). “Our statute says it does. I’ve researched it and it does. Is it perfect? Is it the best for all? No, it’s not, but that’s not what we’re voting on.”

rgreene@loudounnow.com
@RenssGreene