The James City County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to defer a contentious application for a cell tower until early October because members were not happy with the tower’s proposed height.
The cell company nTelos applied to build a 170-foot tower with a two-foot lightning rod between New Town and Eastern State in order to boost cell signals in the area and to get better coverage for residents of nearby Ford’s Colony. Many unhappy New Town residents came to Tuesday’s meeting to share their concerns about the tower’s visibility.
The Planning Commission voted 4-3 to reject the plan. The Board generally agreed Tuesday that the planned tower was too high, and asked staff to do a publicly advertised balloon test at various lower heights before bringing the application back for review in October.
Attorney Gloria Freye on behalf of the applicant explained to the Board that nTelos had looked closely at 15 other possible sites over the course of seven years for its planned cell tower, but none had worked out for various reasons. She said the applicant would consider lowering the tower.
She noted that there are five other tall towers visible in various locations near New Town currently, and that this does not stop people from living in the community.
Realtec Community Services President Drew Mulhare, representing the owner of the cell tower land, pointed out that two years ago, the Board approved a resolution to allow a limited access road off Route 199 to reach the tower site. The Board was “fully aware of the intended tower” at the time, he said.
Several citizens, most of whom live in New Town, spoke out Tuesday against the placement of the tower. They argued that the tower is inconsistent with county ordinance, the Comprehensive Plan and cell tower performance standards.
They also argued that New Town citizens did not need better cell service, nor did residents know that other tower heights had been or could be considered. They suggested nTelos work harder to find an alternate location.
Larry Salzman, who represents the New Town Associates (the New Town developer) and the New Town Commercial Association (that functions like a home owners association for businesses) echoed many of these concerns. He suggested a new balloon test because the pool and clubhouse had been constructed near sections 7 and 8 where the tower will be most visible since the last test, and he noted the pool and club altered the tree line in that area.
He said the NTA would be willing to buy the land where the tower would be located and add it to New Town; he said the NTA would do this without making a profit.
Chair John McGlennon said this comment concerned him – he felt that this was asking the Board to turn down the requested use “because we want to get that land.”
Attorney Greg Davis spoke on behalf of the partnership that is developing New Town Sections 7 and 8, and said there will be 400 homes in this new area that will be very close to the tower, and that the tower would have a negative financial impact on property owners.
Board member Jim Icenhour noted that staff had said 130 feet is the limit to a height that staff would support; he also said that lowering the height of the tower will not matter, as it will always be visible.
He said he wanted to see compromise on both sides, because not only do citizens not want to see a tower, but the property owner also wants to “exercise their property rights.”
Supervisor Mary Jones said the reason for the public hearing was to “get input from the public,” and that the property owner has asked for consideration but that the citizens need consideration, too. She said she would like to see another advertised balloon test, but that she still had questions about the case.
Supervisor Jim Kennedy pointed out that if the size of the tower is significantly reduced, the number of towers will need to be increased to get the same amount of service.
He also said the case has been “kicked around for seven years” so if it were deferred, he wanted to see it back for a vote quickly.
The Board agreed to defer the case until October 9; before then, staff will conduct balloon tests at various lower heights.