Shentel is weaving its way across the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and is navigating its way around tower height restrictions as it goes. Current rules cap a cell tower’s height at 200 feet, but Shentel has lobbied for permission to build taller towers if the new structure is replacing an existing tower that is already above that height, reports the Northern Virginia Daily. A 300 foot cell tower in Mount Jackson is at the center of the hubbub.
With a 7-0 vote, the Planning Commission approved the request from Shentel. The tower that is up for replacement was built prior to the 1996 height rules and occupies a privately owned site on Short Run Lane. The original landowner sold the property a few years back and the new owner has raised the rental rate – by 4,000 percent. The rate increase was determined by Shentel to be “commercially infeasible.” Instead, Shentel proposes to replace the original tower with a new one that meets the same 300 feet height, but on an alternative site.
Representing Shentel, attorney Valerie Long has indicated that a new cell tower needs to match the 300 foot height to deliver the same coverage, but could successfully relocate to an adjacent lot. The coverage area includes sections of Route 11 and Interstate 81, which Long described as “very important.”
With a new location in mind, lawmakers then turned their attention to the removal of the existing tower on the expensive piece of land. Shentel’s access to that property is not guaranteed after March 2021, prompting the commissioners to urge quick action in removing the old tower while access is not a problem.
“I’ve researched that issue, I’m not aware of any definitive law on the point, so I’m not sure what the answer is,” said attorney Jordan Bowman, representing Shenandoah County. “You’ve heard from the applicant’s attorney that the landowner’s consent isn’t needed, and they might be right. But I’m not confident and I have some concerns about whether or not it’s needed.” While a final course of action was not determined, the March deadline is fast approaching.