AT&T’s test Thursday to evaluate the visual impact of a proposed 155-foot tower on its property on top of Short Hill mountain overlooking Lovettsville was cancelled because of high winds.
According to AT&T spokesman Dan Langan, the test will likely be rescheduled for next week.
Nonetheless, many of the same community activists around the mountain who two years ago fought AT&T’s proposal to construct a 35-foot-high, 160,000-square-foot aboveground building on the same site were on alert, taking photos of the mountain from different spots in and near Lovettsville and sharing them on Facebook yesterday.
The test balloons never reached the full 155-foot height of the proposed tower.
The company has not yet filed a formal application to build the monopole, which will require two public hearings, with a commission permit from the Planning Commission and a special exception permit from the Board of Supervisors. The proposed location indicated on pre-application paperwork appears to violate a Loudoun zoning ordinance that monopoles “shall not be located along ridge lines, but downslope from the top of ridge lines, to protect views of the Catoctin, Bull Run, Hogback, Short Hill, and Blue Ridge Mountains.”
Loudoun zoning requires that the monopole “shall be compatible with development in the vicinity with regards to the setting, color, lighting, topography, materials and architecture. In addition, the facility shall be located in the interior of the property and areas of existing vegetation, if applicable, shall be used to screen the facility.”
As part of its application, AT&T must submit graphics depicting the area in which the monopole would provide service, and simulations of its visual impact on the area with plans to mitigate that impact.
Representatives from the company held a pre-application conference on the proposal with county staff members on April 10. Those meetings are not open to the public, but according to a record of the meeting, a representative from AT&T met with staff members from the health, planning and zoning, and building and development departments, along with Planning Commissioner Eugene Scheel (Catoctin) and staff from the offices of County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) and supervisors Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin), Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), and Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling).
In paperwork requesting the pre-application conference, the company’s representatives wrote the 155-foot height “was determined to be the lowest possible height that would eliminate current coverage gaps” in wireless service.
“The location is ideal in both setting and background as the monopole will blend into the surroundings and minimize the visual impact,” the filing reads. “Given the size of the property and the location of the monopole, there will be no impact from noise, light, glare, odor or any other emissions. Because an AT&T facility already exists on the property, it is adequately served by public utilities and existing roads, and no additional public infrastructure is necessary.”
AT&T brought on a firestorm of protest in with its proposal for a large aboveground facility on top of its already-existing underground facility in 2016. Although the company argued that facility would improve communications service in Loudoun, the county Communications Commission unanimously passed a statement finding “no evidence” that was the case. Critics of the application said it strongly resembles a data center, and one of the leading members of the opposition to the project was recognized for his role in fighting it.
AT&T owns more than 160 acres on Short Hill. In the county’s comprehensive plan, most of that property is labelled as steep slopes and all of it is within the Mountainside Overlay District, which restricts development.
This article was updated Friday, April 27 at 3:28 p.m. to correct an error regarding the record of the pre-application conference.