Although AT&T has withdrawn its application to build a massive aboveground facility on top of Short Hill Mountain, the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition wants the Board of Supervisors’ opposition to the project on the record, instead of merely allowing AT&T to back away.
“We believe that regardless of AT&T’s withdrawal of the application that there was ample evidence to overrule the Commission Permit ‘as not being in substantial accord with the Comprehensive Plan,’” the committee wrote in a letter to the Board of Supervisors. It said the board has “a strong legal foundation” to deny the project’s commission permit.
Former Planning Commission chairman Al Van Huyck announced the creation of the Short Hill Committee of the Conservation Coalition at the June 7 meeting of the Board of Supervisors, promising to offer the board “a well-researched and documented set of findings to deny the permit.”
Van Huyck said he doesn’t expect the board to vote down the commission permit based on its merits instead of its withdrawal, but said having the research done prepares the county if AT&T makes another attempt.
“When they suspended it and withdrew it, it just took all the air out of the situation for the board, and it gives them an easy path,” Van Huyck said.
Under the commission permit process, once the Planning Commission approves a permit, the Board of Supervisors has 60 days to overturn the commission’s decision or the permit is automatically upheld. If the board were to overturn the permit based on the merits of the application, rather than AT&T’s request to withdraw, it would need to be prepared to defend its decision in court. On the other hand, as County Attorney Leo Rogers explained, if the board overturns the permit, AT&T would at least need to address the county’s findings for denial if it decides to reapply.
“If the board turns down an application because it is withdrawn, then the applicant can reapply with essentially the same application or with changes as it deems appropriate,” Rogers said.
Van Huyck pointed out that AT&T said it is “suspending” its plans in the withdrawal letter to the county.
“Suspending it kind of leaves us all, shall we say, in suspense,” Van Huyck said. “It’s not at all clear. I mean, they did not say we’re done. What they really clearly interpreted was that they weren’t going to get it voted favorably, and so they suspended it to avoid a negative vote on its merits.”
The letter says that committee has found many reasons to overturn the permit, all related to the county comprehensive plan, against which commission permits are judged. The committee says the Short Hill project doesn’t meet the comprehensive plan’s requirements for compatibility with the rural quality of life, protection of mountainsides, stormwater runoff and sewage; and that the proposed facility would not serve county residents.
Van Huyck pointed out that the company has not submitted plans to deal with water runoff or wells, and that the coalition’s hydrologists see serious problems with the application.
“Nobody should be allowed to come up for a commission permit until all the development issues have been studied and resolved,” Van Huyck said. “In this case, they were coming for a commission permit, and then they would go to a site plan, and who knows how many of these questions would get answered.”
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the permit June 23. The letter and Van Huyck all thanked the Board of Supervisors for its work on the project, especially western Supervisors Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) and Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge).
The Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition is an organization of 30 non-profit organizations focused on Loudoun’s history and environment.