McGaheysville residents protest proposed tower

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MCGAHEYSVILLE — Three Leagues Road residents rallied against a proposed cell tower last week before the Rockingham County Supervisors, who responded by tabling the issue until next month.

Thirteen residents of the Three Leagues subdivision spoke against a special use permit request for a 199-foot cell phone tower on Aug. 10.

District 5 Supervisor Mike Breeden made a motion to table the item until Sept. 24, and the supervisors voted unanimously to postpone it and give Verizon time to answer residents’ questions and/or modify the proposal.

Verizon wants to use Three Leagues Road to access a parcel south of the subdivision on Hodge Lane.

Three Leagues Road dead ends north of the proposed cell phone site, which is located 2/3rds of a mile south of McGaheysville Road.

Verizon is proposing to lease 10,000 square feet of a 57-acre parcel at 1168 Hodge Lane. The telecommunications company wants to use a private right-of-way owned by Gary Burner to access the site.

Burner, who owns land in the subdivision but does not live there, said most of the tower would be blocked by woods when viewed from Three Leagues Road.

“The more of these towers we have, the safer we are,” he said, noting emergency services can often locate cell phone users.

Lori Schweller, a Charlottesville attorney representing Verizon, said the company needs the tower to increase cell phone coverage in the area because it’s located in a “dead zone.”

Two cell towers are both about three miles away, which is the typical range for a cell tower, she said.

No cell towers are available in the area for co-locating with other providers, she said, but noted that the proposed one would provide room for four other providers plus two dishes for county emergency services.

James Madison University professor Fernando Pargas said he was asked to speak on behalf of Three Leagues Road residents. Pargas said the tower is not compatible with surrounding mountains, farmland and houses.

Studies have shown that property values decrease by 21 percent when a cell tower is located in a residential area, he said, adding that the county would consequently lose property taxes as a result.

“Our home is our castle. Verizon is storming our gates!” he said, noting that the company is a ranked No. 13 on the Fortune 500 list of wealthiest U.S. companies. “They can find many other locations, but we cannot move.”

Several residents complained that Verizon’s request would make Three Leagues Road into a through-way to Hodge Lane and Cemetery Road, negatively impacting children, families and the elderly.

Laura Hottinger said she lives in one of the first homes built in the subdivision and added that the cell tower would destroy a “spectacular view” of mountains to the south. (The existing view of Massanutten Peak to the north would not be obstructed.)

Jared Lamb said he moved to the subdivision three years ago from Spring, Texas. “You currently live in a dream that so many of us didn’t know existed,” he said. “I want it for my grandkids.”

Referring to a “balloon test” that Verizon conducted at the proposed site to provide a visual of the tower, Robert Lucatorto called it a “dog and pony show” and doubted that the balloon reached 199 feet.

Some residents said the proposal would violate the subdivision’s covenants, but County Attorney Thomas H. Miller noted that those are a private contract that the supervisors can’t enforce.

“You will have to enforce it,” he said, speaking to residents.

In regard to the subdivision’s covenants, “There’s nothing that would prohibit you from granting us an easement,” Schweller said.

Realtors say that one can’t sell a house that doesn’t have good cell phone service, she said, but added that “we can explore other options” for accessing the property.

Verizon pulled its original special use permit application for the site in 2014 after negotiations with a landowner on Hodge Lane broke down, said Stephen Waller, a Verizon consultant also based in Charlottesville.

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