At a planning commission meeting earlier this month, Kingsmill resident Bill Halteman told commissioners about a mobile cell tower on Kingsmill property that’s been operating without a proper permit for several years.
Halteman, who is a member of the Kingsmill Wireless Advocacy Group, has been working with the group to find ways to keep AT&T and Verizon from building two camouflaged cell towers on soccer fields in the community. The towers were the center of a contentious court appeal process involving the county, the cell companies, Kingsmill and the board of zoning appeals. A judge ruled in November that the towers could go ahead as planned.
Halteman says he noticed the mobile cell tower sitting in a parking lot near the resort in 2007 and didn’t think much about it. In fall 2009, as the cell tower case came to a close, he started investigating what the tower was doing there, if it was functional and why Kingsmill would need two more cell towers just 3,000 feet away from the mobile device.
Halteman learned the device is called a cell-on-wheels, or COW. They’re generally are used for temporary cell service for events or other functions, and are removed afterwards. Using a mobile cell tower continually isn’t compliant with county code and zoning requirements because it’s sitting in a residential district and isn’t camouflaged.
Halteman contacted the county, and staff told him they couldn’t find a copy of the original temporary permit. Furthermore, they weren’t aware it was still on the property.
County Zoning Administrator Melissa Brown contacted Robin Carson, Executive Vice President and Managing Director of the Kingsmill Resort and Spa, in October to ask her about the matter.
On November 17, Carson sent a letter in response Kingsmill placed the COW at the resort in May 2005 to support “several high profile, corporate and government events at the resort that year,” she wrote. The arrangement, in which AT&T paid $1 a year for the tower to be kept there, was intended to be temporary until new cell towers were constructed, Carson explained in the letter.
Cell service improved, and “tax generating, resort group guests began requiring a level of cellular service as terms of their contract, making approval of the permanent, neighborhood tower application or keeping the COW critical to Kingsmill Resort business,” according to Carson’s letter.
Faced with no permanent solution to their cell reception troubles, “Kingsmill chose to keep the COW in place to benefit the community and maintain the level of cell service required of our tax-paying resort guests, until alternate improved cellular coverage existed,” she wrote. It’s been in continual operation ever since.
The letter concludes, “The resort has had all intentions of removing the COW when alternate cellular service improvements were installed in the area that would maintain or improve the current cell service the COW provides.”
Deputy County Attorney Adam Kinsman says Brown is currently taking the letter under consideration, though as of January 22 no further action had been taken. Kinsman and Planning Director Allen Murphy told commissioners at the meeting that enforcement action is being considered.
Halteman likes the idea of putting a permanent tower where the COW is now, and the wireless group agrees. Currently the group is working to keep the two approved cell towers off the soccer field because it’s a historical site. The parking lot isn’t historical, and residents are already used to seeing a tower there now, he said.
“This [COW tower] is an embarrassment to the county, and it’s there illegally,” said Halteman.