Bell Files Bill to Build Cell Towers Almost Anywhere

Sen. John J. Bell (D-13) this year filed a bill in the General Assembly that would permit telecom companies to build cell towers up to 200 feet high virtually anywhere.

Senate Bill 255 as filed would amend existing law curbing local authority, adding automatic approval regardless of local zoning for any application to build a cell tower up to 200 feet so long as it either “provides additional wireless coverage or capacity for first responders” or is at least four miles away from other towers. That bill was trimmed back slightly during committee review to limit the exemption to towers up to 150 feet, the equivalent height of about a 10-story building. An existing exemption only covers towers only up to 50 feet.

The Senate Committee on Local Government passed the bill as amended 9-6, including a yes vote from Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31). The bill faces opposition from conservation organizations, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors, the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Association of Counties.

Bell had previously threatened to take state action if the Board of Supervisors denied a controversial proposal by AT&T to build a cell tower on top of Short Hill Mountain, an application that drew uproar and resistance from residents in the area. Citing specific prohibitions against communications towers on ridgelines in the county comprehensive plan, supervisors denied AT&T’s application 8-1, with only Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) in favor.

The bill’s first responder language is particularly friendly to AT&T. One of the telecom giant’s arguments when it sought local approval to build a tower atop Short Hill Mountain was that the tower would also support FirstNet, a separate wireless network dedicated to first responders.

Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) said Bell is now carrying out his threat.

“Sen. Bell is upset that we denied that application, and this is 100% a direct response to that denial,” Buffington said. “He even said at the time if we denied it, he would do this, and so he’s coming through on this threat to do this.”

“Senator Bell’s bill would give wireless companies carte blanche to erect towers anywhere in the state if they provide data demonstrating need,” said Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains President Peter Weeks.

“There are already current limitation on localities on what we can and cannot consider when considering cell tower applications, and those are pretty limiting, to be honest with you,” Buffington said. “So I think that should stay how it is at the state level and leave the rest of it up to the localities—because it’s not like we deny every cell tower application. We’ve approved them recently. We just take a hard look at them and make sure they’re in the right place, and make individual decisions on individual applications based on that. The only one I can think of that we’ve denied recently is—well, the Short Hill.” Bell has not responded to requests for comment left with him and his chief of staff.

17 thoughts on “Bell Files Bill to Build Cell Towers Almost Anywhere

  • 2022-01-26 at 12:15 pm

    I tend to agree with Supervisor Buffington on this one. Granted, those monstrous towers are a necessary evil. But they’re so ugly. They shouldn’t proliferate in beautiful Loudoun. I hope Senator Bell will reconsider his position.

  • 2022-01-26 at 12:30 pm

    Wow! I wonder who bought off John Bell this week? Have the good people of Loudoun County learned anything about voting for Democrats like Bell and Briskman? I wonder what the price of a Virginia State Senator is these days? Or does he earn a commission on each tower built?

  • 2022-01-26 at 12:35 pm

    Clearly this Democrat is not working in Loudoun’s best interests. He needs to be replaced.

  • 2022-01-26 at 12:36 pm

    Again, how many times will Democrats stab environmentalists in the back before the environmentalists stop voting for them? (apparently, a LOT)

  • 2022-01-26 at 1:01 pm

    I’m one Democratic voter who’s quite upset with Bell over this bill. Thought I’d make that clear before all the MAGA nuts and GOP crowd shows up to bash any and everything any one outside their bubble does.

  • 2022-01-26 at 1:33 pm

    Two months ago, Virginia voters soundly rejected the (D) party.
    We are provided with affirmation of that wise decision nearly every day.

    The (D)s are the party of big business.
    They’re anti environment.
    Their criminal-first agenda has resulted in rising violent crime and a lack of harsh punishment for the guilty.
    Taxes? Oh boy do they love, love LOVE taxing us peons. Especially if it’s a regressive scheme.
    They’re addicted to development. Hand them some money and they’ll rubber stamp virtually anything these days.
    And education is an exercise in identity politics, rather than actually teaching children.

    If J Bell(D) bothered to ask his constituents about the issue of cell towers, I’m certain that we could suggest an excellent place for him to put one.

    • 2022-01-26 at 6:38 pm

      “Soundly rejected” …….

      Dude, Younkin squeaked in by 2 points against a retread. George Felix Allen won by 17.

    • 2022-01-26 at 6:51 pm

      Soundly? 71k votes is not soundly. And now we are stuck with Governor Stunkin who has really “fleeced” Va!

    • 2022-01-27 at 11:17 am

      Would you have preferred I used another word to represent a 12% shift at the top of the ballot from 2020 to 2022?
      Or that the top 3 elected officials in the Commonwealth are from a different party than those who were in office at the time?
      Or that there was a swing of seven (7) seats in the House of Delegates and now the (D)s are no longer the majority?

      I think my most measures it was actually a political massacre. But I was trying to be courteous.

      But please, by all means, focus on the math. And keep pushing a radical agenda. Virginians see the (D)s for who they really are.

  • 2022-01-26 at 3:04 pm

    Loudoun has approved cell towers all over the county over the past few years, just not the one placed on top of Short Hill Mountain in an area the comprehensive plan and our zoning calls to protect. Approving this on mountainside just sets the precedent that these sensitive areas are open to development. The “first responder” aspect is a red herring as virtually any cell tower would be used by first responders. The issue is this particular spot, and trying to create a bill around one particular disappointment for AT&T is a terrible way to write state law.

  • 2022-01-26 at 5:20 pm

    This is a nasty bill with horrid implications statewide. It usurps local determination in favor of giant telecommunications companies – like AT&T -whose water Bell is carrying. Bell shows a lot of gall with this special-interest bill, as well as contempt for his voters in Loudoun County.

  • 2022-01-26 at 6:52 pm

    He is one clown who needs to return to the circus he came from.

  • 2022-01-26 at 7:00 pm

    Follow the money- Bell has been bought and paid for by telecommunication companies.

  • 2022-01-27 at 9:01 am

    Too many comments lose sight (excuse the pun) of the real issues. It is not just about beauty or views. We faced this when I was on the school board. When an antenna operates in close proximity to children who have no choice but to be in classrooms for 6 plus hours per day OSHA standards apply and ionized radiation exposure needs to be addressed. Unlike adults, children have far more cell replication occurring so who is going to absorb the litigation costs of parents who want someone to be responsible for their childs’ cellular mutations? Second, These are commercial applications which are not governed by utility regulation and perhaps should not be mindlessly approved in residential zones or else zoning becomes another governmental farce.
    Finally, has anyone researched the VPAP records to see where the donations to campaigns have gone too make sure partisan politicians who cashed the checks don’t get a vote? 🙂

  • 2022-01-27 at 2:08 pm

    Remember McAuliffe won by 56 thousand votes more than Cucinelli also he won with under 50% of the vote something Youngkin does not have to include in his biography.
    This piece fails to mention the eminent domain powers given to the utilities and the tax burden we will have to pay for their infrastructure. Stay Puff man got mad at Loudoun County.

  • 2022-01-27 at 5:57 pm

    What about the property rights of individual property owners? If offered a substantial amount of dollars by a telecom company to install a tower on their property? What are the consequences if this happens?

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