McGaheysville residents strongly oppose proposed cell tower

The Valley Banner

McGAHEYSVILLE — A few Verizon Wireless representatives were thrown to the wolves in McGaheysville last Wednesday.

Company representatives closed up shop more than an hour early on a community meeting at McGaheysville Elementary School about a proposed cell tower.

The meeting, which was organized by Verizon, was called after residents fiercely opposed the company’s request for a special-use permit to build a 199-foot tower in August.

The permit would have allowed the company to build an access road through property owned by Gary and Linda Burner at the end of a cul-de-sac on Three Leagues Road.

The road would lead to property the Burners own on Hodge Lane, where the tower would be built. Verizon plans to lease the property.

The Rockingham County Board of Supervisors tabled the request so Verizon could address concerns of several residents who vehemently opposed it during a public hearing.

Officials planned to hold Wednesday’s meeting as an open house, with charts providing information on the project, but the nearly 50 people gathered in the school’s library quickly began an interrogation.

The discussion continuously circled back to one question: “If you sat on your back deck would you want to see this?” asked resident Donnie Coleman.

Verizon says the tower would address coverage gaps in the area.

Residents say it would obscure the view of the mountains and create a dangerous traffic issue on Three Leagues Road, with equipment traveling through the neighborhood to reach the tower.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a tower that provides service that no one can see,” said Stephen Waller of GDN Sites, which is working with Verizon on the project.

In an apparent attempt at compromise, Verizon instead proposed access to the property would come from Cemetery Road and the tower’s height was reduced to 174 feet.

After a balloon test the previous Friday to depict how the tower would be seen from nearby properties, the company decided to knock the height down to 150 feet, officials said at the meeting.

Residents disputed the validity of the test Verizon presented to the board in August, saying the balloon wasn’t as high as the tower. The new test was also criticized.

Fernando Pargas, a James Madison University business professor who lives on Three Leagues Road, said photos of the balloon were taken from a hill at the top of the subdivision and the wind was blowing, making the balloon seem shorter.

“It’s really an optical illusion of where they took the picture from,” he said.

Lori Schweller, an attorney representing Verizon, said the balloon test was conducted properly and without trickery.

“We had this done by engineers,” she said. “This was not done with a felt tip pen. It was done very carefully.”

Residents also criticized Verizon’s choice to schedule the balloon test from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. and Wednesday’s meeting at 5:30 p.m.

“Most people are working,” Coleman said. “And I never got to see the balloon test. Thank God for pictures.”

Schweller said the schedule was crafted around Verizon’s operating hours.

The company’s representatives pushed back when discussion touched on property values.

“If I get a real estate agent to appraise my house before the tower goes in and after the tower goes in, is Verizon going to give me the difference?” asked resident Mary K. West.
Verizon said the cell tower would have little to no effect on property values.

“That is not true. There is a ton of research all over the world ...” Pargas started before being interrupted by Schweller.

“Please send me your research,” she said.

Pargas countered: “I have it right here. I have the websites for you right here. When my students do research that is poor, I give them an ‘F.’ And I hope that the Board of Supervisors gives you an ‘F.’” The opposition was enough for Verizon to disband the meeting.

“This is the first that I have seen of all of this opposition,” said Cathy Faulkner, a real estate manager for Verizon. “So, what I want to say is I want to take my stuff and go home because I had no idea that there was this much opposition. I don’t know if we’ll defer this. I don’t know if we’ll pull it.

“But you know when you can’t use your phones anymore,” Faulkner said without finishing the thought.

From the back of the room, one man yelled “we don’t care about the phones.”

Faulkner declined after the meeting to clarify her comments or discuss what would happen to the request.

Supervisor Michael Breeden, whose District 5 includes McGaheysville, and Zoning Administrator Diana Stultz, who were at the meeting, said they would have to consult with County Attorney Tom Miller before determining if the request could be reopened for public comment. “From the county’s standpoint, once it was tabled, the hearing was closed,” Breeden said. “It would take some action on account of the board to open the hearing back up. I haven’t seen that done. I really need to talk to the county attorney.”

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