Letter to the Editor: Neighborhoods Vs. Cell Towers

Letter to the Editor: Neighborhoods Vs. Cell Towers

To the Editor:

The January 2013 edition of the MVCCA Record includes a resolution of its Environment & Recreation committee on page 13 concerning cell towers. The resolution specifically proposes changes to Fairfax County's Comprehensive Plan with particular reference to its "Telecommunication Policy." The proposed resolution (which was likely voted upon on Wednesday, Jan. 23, after this letter was submitted for publication) makes reference to a 2011 MVCCA resolution "that telecommunications towers should be approved only if micro-cell or miniaturization technology such as Distributive Antennae System (DAS) is not technically feasible." It is noteworthy that the question of financial feasibility on the part of cellular carriers is not mentioned (although it may have been included in the 2011 resolution).

It is my understanding that cellular carriers are reluctant to install DAS, not due to lack of technical feasibility but, rather, because they have determined that such systems are not financially feasible.

When I drive my car in the Mount Vernon District, there are clear cellular dead zones including on Fort Hunt Road from the intersection with Sherwood Hall Lane to close to Westgrove Park and on the George Washington Parkway from around Tulane Road to the stone bridge just south of the Morningside Lane exit. I gather people living in those neighborhoods have limited cellular service.

It has been next to impossible to find suitable sites to install cellular towers in dead zones to enhance cellular service, an important thing to do particularly concerning the ability of homeowners to communicate during an emergency. The decision of the U.S. District Court in Alexandria in the New Cingular Wireless case that was affirmed by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals made it clear that the most important views to consider are those of the people living most closely adjacent the proposed site and who are most likely to be impacted by the installation. That proposal concerned the request to install a monopole at the Masonic Lodge on Fort Hunt Road just south of the intersection with Elkin Street. The MVCCA passed a resolution favoring the installation, but the adjacent Plymouth neighborhood, which did not belong to the MVCCA, opposed the installation. The Alexandria Court considered the Plymouth neighborhood's opposition to be more germane to the issue than the support of the MVCCA, and ruled that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors had been correct in denying the application. The 4th Circuit affirmed this decision.

In the big picture, what does this mean? Whether or not the MVCCA's resolution passed this week, cellular carriers are going to make business decisions taking into account whether those decisions are financially sound. To date, they have determined that installing a comprehensive DAS in Mount Vernon is not financially feasible. Thus, based upon the Court decisions, unless locations can be found where monopoles can be installed without opposition from adjacent neighborhoods, it is likely cellular service will remain in its current state. I would not presume to criticize any neighborhood in our community for opposing installation of a cellular monopole. At the same time, unless there is a neighborhood out there willing to step forward and agree to a monopole installation in their midst, none will ever be approved.

H. Jay Spiegel

Mount Vernon