COLT, Others Oppose Bell’s Towers Bill

The Coalition of Loudoun Towns has added its voice to those opposing a bill filed by Sen. John J. Bell (D-13) to override local authority and allow telecom companies to build wireless communications towers up to 150 feet tall virtually anywhere they choose.

In a letter to state lawmakers, the coalition, a group of all seven Loudoun town mayors, warned the bill “mandates approval of any wireless infrastructure anywhere a company desire.”

“The Bill’s provision requiring approval if additional capacity or coverage was created for first responders is a de facto removal of any local zoning authority for communications infrastructure because the possibility that a first responder may use the coverage or capacity from the newly installed infrastructure is certain and absolute,” the letter reads.

And they warned it would apply not only to cell towers, but also small cell deployment—including a photo illustration of a small cell facility on the sidewalk along Washington Street, the main street through Middleburg.

Local authority on cell towers already is circumscribed; Senate Bill 255 if passed would further limit local government and taking local zoning out of the picture. Local governments would be required to automatically approve any application to build a cell tower up to 150 feet so long as it either “provides additional wireless coverage or capacity for first responders” or is at least four miles away from other towers. The bill would apply to applications filed after on or after July 1 and sunset on July 1, 2024. Bell had filed the bill to take effect immediately and indefinitely and apply to towers up to 200 feet high.

The only exception would be in federal, state, or local historic districts.

The Senate Committee on Local Government passed the bill 9-6, including a yes vote from Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31). On Thursday, the Senate agreed to send the bill back to committee.

The bill faces opposition from conservation organizations, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors, the Virginia Municipal League, and the Virginia Association of Counties.

Bell had previously threatened to take state action if the Board of Supervisors denied a controversial proposal by AT&T to build a cell tower on top of Short Hill Mountain, an application that drew uproar and resistance from residents in the area. The bill’s first responder language is particularly friendly to AT&T. One of the telecom giant’s arguments when it sought local approval to build a tower atop Short Hill Mountain was that the tower would also support FirstNet, a separate wireless network dedicated to first responders.

Supervisors denied the application to build that tower on a 8-1 vote.

5 thoughts on “COLT, Others Oppose Bell’s Towers Bill

  • 2022-01-27 at 3:47 pm
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    The People need to fire John Bell next election. This bill is that bad.

  • 2022-01-27 at 4:19 pm
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    I’m glad COLT opposes Senator Bell’s proposed legislation. Loudoun is so beautiful. Why let unsightly cell towers blemish its lovely vistas? Yes, sometimes compromises are necessary. But I would draw the line at unlimited eyesores. I hope Senator Bell will reconsider his position.

  • 2022-01-28 at 7:48 am
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    Cell towers are commercial applications which clearly violate residential zoning. Students who have no choice but to sit in classrooms for 6 hours per day near one of these ionizing machines are covered by OSHA rules so who is responsible for eventual cellular mutations? A politician? The school? the community? Can someone scour the VPAP campaign donation records? 🙂

  • 2022-01-29 at 4:18 am
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    While some districts may have the term “residential” in their brief descriptor, there are no purely residential zoning districts in the county contrary to urban legend. each of the zoning districts have tens if not a hundred plus uses permitted in them either by right, by minor special exception or by special exception. each of those districts includes a telecommunication monopole as a use.

  • 2022-01-29 at 5:59 pm
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    So what happens to an individuals right to sell their property to a cell tower developer? I’m sure if offered enough there would be property sold.

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