Sunday, October 11, 2015
The Goochland Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve a conditional use permit to allow the construction of a 199 foot communications tower on the site of the new Company 6 Fire-Rescue Station in Hadensville at its October 6 meeting. The tower will be roughly opposite the entrance to the Royal Virginia Golf Course and way too close for comfort for nearby homeowners who live in its shadow.
The approved CUP contains a provision requiring a public hearing before leasing space on the tower for purposes other than public safety communications. The county would receive any fees generated by such a co-location.
Although the matter was on the September Board agenda, the vote was deferred for 30 days to allow the county to reevaluate the situation. The tower is the last piece in a multi-million dollar upgrade to the county’s public safety communications system, which is required by an unfunded federal mandate.
One of the many bitter lessons of 9/11 was that disaster scenes were all too often “Towers of Babel” as first responders could not communicate with each other, with deadly consequences. In Goochland, deputies and fire-rescue responders are far too familiar with radio dead spots all around the county.
Goochland has been working on to update its public safety communication system for nearly a decade. In addition to new equipment using frequencies that can “talk” to other agencies and fill signal gaps, the system requires new communications towers. These have already been approved and sited throughout the county in accordance with the overall plan.
Jennifer and Michael Mazza, who live very close to the Hadensville tower, contended that the county did a poor job of revealing the height and location of the tower. While they understand and support the need for emergency communication, the adamantly oppose use of the tower for cell phones, citing health concerns.
Board Chair Susan Lascolette, District 1, supported the deferral. However, a review of the communications plan yielded no other options for the tower site. Moving the tower would delay implementation of the plan for many months and void guarantee provisions in the county’s contract with Motorola.
Changing the appearance of the tower from a metal monopole to a faux tree or flag pole design would drastically increase the cost and not support the necessary equipment.
Jennifer Mazza was not pleased by the county’s response and took the Board to task, contending it was not living up to its promises of transparency and accountability.
“I thought I had a neighbor looking out for me,” she told the Board. “But I was wrong. Six children( who live in homes near the tower site) should not have to grow up living under a tower. Making something right is being accountable, regardless of the cost. It will be a long time before I trust another politician.”
County administrator Rebecca Dickson said that the person who sold the land to the county for the new Company 6 station knew that there would be a high tower on that property for about nine years. She also said that, at this time, no cell provider has expressed interest in locating on the Hadensville tower.
Board Chair Susan Lascolette, District 1, which includes Hadensville, said that she knows some people are unhappy with this decision. She said that the county looked hard for an alternative location, but the communication system serves the entire county, which will benefit from the upgrade.
Manuel Alvarez, Jr,. District 2, said that the tower near Central High School is also in someone’s backyard and is a lattice, rather than monopole tower. Others are located at Creekmore, a subdivision next to Richmond Country Club, and Company 4. As he has lead the efforts to expand Broadband coverage, Alvarez said he could not vote against this tower. He contended that property values are not negatively affected by the proximity of cell towers, citing Rivergate, an enclave of expensive homes just south of West Creek, as an example. Alvarez said that he grew up under the 500 foot WTVR tower in Richmond.
Making hard choices is part of the duty of elected officials.