AT&T boosted itself nearly a half-football field into the air atop Short Hill Mountain Tuesday morning to see how far around the community it could see, and vice versa.
The telecommunications company raised a crane nearly 42 yards into the air at its 139-acre property atop the ridge, about three miles west of Lovettsville’s corporate limits, to better understand the coverage area and visual impact of its proposed 125-foot monopole. According to AT&T Spokesperson Daniel Langan, the company will share its findings with the appropriate federal, state and local stakeholders.
Makenzie Bandstra, an architectural historian with the EBI Consulting environmental, engineering and design firm, said the Virginia Department of Historic Resources recommended that the project’s Visual Area of Potential Effect be expanded to two miles and requested the crane test be done, along with photo simulations based on at least five views from different locations in the area, including two views from the Harpers Ferry Battlefield study area.
According to theQ&A page on the AT&T website, the company needs the tower “to enhance voice and mobile broadband coverage for our customers and prepare for future technology such as 5G, which is significantly faster and more capable than today’s networks.”
A tower of such height is needed because the location is a “macro site,” which means the tower would cover “large geographic areas, especially in rural situations, with relatively high capacity” by using lower range spectrum frequencies that travel farther than those which smaller towers feature.
A larger, but shorter proposal three years ago sparked mass outcry from residents nearby.
That proposal included the construction of a 160,000-square-foot aboveground facility with a 35-foot-high monopole on the ridge. Many residents felt that design resembled a data center and the county Communications Commission unanimously passed a statement finding “no evidence” that the facility would improve communications service in Loudoun, although AT&T claimed it would have.
In June 2016, AT&T withdrewthat application and the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to overturn the permit that the Planning Commission previously granted the AT&T.
Two years later, the telecommunications company applied for county permission to build a 2,500-square-foot equipment compound surrounded by a 6-foot-tall fence on the same spot with a 155-foot tower—a height AT&T at the time claimed wasthe lowest it could build and still eliminate existing wireless coverage gaps, according to paperwork filed with a request to meet with county planners.
To test the visuals, AT&T in April 2018 sent balloons into the air but was forced to stop the test before the balloons reached their maximum height because of wind.
Langan said that AT&T lowered the proposedheight of the tower by 30 feet after talks with community leaders and residents. The company has not yet submitted a formal application with the county to construct it.
Once it does, the county Planning Commission will review the application before sending it to the Board of Supervisors to schedule a public hearing and later vote to approve or deny it.