Reviewing Cell Tower Regulations in Albemarle

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The cell tower industry has evolved a lot in the last 20 years, and Albemarle, VA has recognized that a review of regulations is in order, reports The Daily Progress. “The policy has never been revisited and changes in the regulations have been largely limited to keep up with changing federal and state regulations, court decisions and changes in technology,” said Bill Fritz, a county development process manager. After years of discussion, the Board of Supervisors is finally ready to tackle the review in hopes of better classifying and streamlining future cell tower development.

The current system breaks cell tower development into three tiers, each with its own set of rules. Tier 1 encompasses facilities that can operate within or as attachments to existing structures. Treetop facilities that are not located with an avoidance area are tagged as Tier 2. Albemarle described an avoidance area as a site with “resources of significance to the county and where the unwise siting of Personal Wireless Service Facilities could result in adverse impacts.” No special use permit is required for cell tower deployment in Tier 1 or Tier 2 locations.

A special use permit is required for cell tower advancement in a Tier 3 area. Tier 3 is loosely defined as anything that isn’t Tier 1 or Tier 2. Tier 3 projects are subject to a public hearing with the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, which are not mandatory for the other Tiers.

A consultant would review the RFP issued by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors for existing regulations and make suggestions for possible revisions within the Tier system. Fritz noted possible areas of revision including definition of an “avoidance area,” or expanding language to more easily incorporate right-of-way construction. He also speculated that factoring in height requirements could become part of the package.

“There’s more to cell towers than just visibility, which seems to be the magic word in this community,” Supervisor Diantha McKeel told The Daily Progress. “I’m hopeful that that’s what you’re talking about, is looking at it holistically. It doesn’t mean we’re going to be building cell towers everywhere, but certainly just updating into the 21st century and the way that people have to use cell towers.”

Supervisor Liz Palmer agreed and expressed a wish that the review would include an element of education for residents who do not know a lot about cell towers. She pointed to rural residents who are still unserved and underserved. The requirements currently in place hamper efforts to reach out to these residents, Palmer noted. “I think it’s really important for the public to know, especially in those rural areas, that changes in policy for us don’t necessarily create a situation that’s going to make money for the cell phone companies and therefore they will put a tower up in their community,” she said. 

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