State Sen. John J. Bell (D-13) has taken the unusual step of dipping into a local government decision, writing to the Loudoun Board of Supervisors to urge support for AT&T’s controversial proposal to put a cell tower atop Short Hill Mountain.
He added in a follow up interview that if the county supervisors do not approve the telecom giant’s application, the General Assembly may step in and take it out of their hands.
AT&T is seeking to build a 125-foot-high tower at its secretive facility on top of the mountain, which company representatives say would improve AT&T wireless service in the area, provide space for other cell phone and wireless broadband carriers, and expand FirstNet, a separate wireless network dedicated to first responders. The application has faced constant resistance from residents nearby along with conservation and heritage organizations, and county planners. The Planning Commission have advised county supervisors against approving it.
“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for a robust broadband network that can help students learn; employees work from home; and small, family-owned businesses—from wineries and restaurants to local farms and home-based businesses—grow, prosper and, in some cases, survive,” Bell wrote to county supervisors in July. “Additionally, this new site will include FirstNet technology, which will allow Loudoun County first responders to have vital coverage in this area when in emergency calls.”
Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) wrote back to indicate he would continue his opposition to AT&T’s application, pointing out county planners and the Planning Commission have consistently recommended denial of the application. He also pointed out it is contrary to county policy protecting ridgelines.
“We have also heard from the community who have spoken out strongly against this application,” Buffington wrote. “Specifically, we have received input in opposition to the application from Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship, Virginia Piedmont Heritage Area Association, Old Dominion Land Conservancy, the Loudoun County Heritage Commission, and countless community residents and business owners who strongly oppose the application.”
Reached for comment, Bell said he was prompted to send the letter after interactions with the fire department and first responders. He acknowledged he has also spoken with AT&T.
And, he said, if the Board of Supervisors does not approve the application, he may bring it to the General Assembly to override them.
“I am deeply committed to protecting our environment, and it’s always a balancing act, but in this case I believe the mitigations justify pressing forward,” Bell said.