By Debbie Adams
The Roanoke County Board of Supervisors turned down a request from Milestone Tower Limited Partnership IV to rezone 9.55 acres at Stonebridge Park for the purpose of obtaining a Special Use Permit to build a broadcasting tower within the park.
The park, located at 420 Swan Drive in the Vinton Magisterial District, is adjacent to Wolf Creek, the Wolf Creek Greenway, and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The park contains a playground, picnic shelter, and tennis courts.
The parcel is zoned R-1, Low Density Residential District, which does not allow for broadcasting towers. Milestone asked for the Roanoke County property to be rezoned to AR, Agricultural/Residential Districts, which does allow cell towers.
Jason Peters, Vinton’s representative to the Board of Supervisors, moved to deny the request for the rezoning and Special Use Permit for the cell tower at a public hearing on the issue on November 17.
“I feel that the rezoning was inconsistent with the county’s comprehensive plan and would have adverse impacts on the neighborhoods,” Peters said. “I am thankful for each and every citizen who reached out to me. I am proud to represent our community.”
During discussion after comments from the public during the hearing, Board of Supervisors Chairman David Radford and Supervisors Phil North, Paul Mahoney, and Martha Hooker also expressed their opposition to the proposed tower.
Peters lives in a nearby subdivision and said he and his family use the park and the greenway often. He believes that ultimately the broadcast tower would be a detriment to the community.
Mahoney stated that although technology is an integral part of people’s lives, he, too, believed the tower would be detrimental to the community and the Blue Ridge Parkway viewshed, and is inconsistent with Roanoke County’s Comprehensive Plan.
Phil North recalled his days ball at the nearby ballfield and how much the park has meant to the community.
Martha Hooker said that while the cell phone services may be needed, using the park for the cell tower “just doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t fit.”
Peters, along with Supervisors David Radford and Phil North, also emphasized the need for much-needed maintenance work at the well-used, neighborhood park.
Several speakers appeared in person at the public hearing to passionately express their concerns about, and opposition to, the broadcast tower.
Roy Lee, who lives within yards of where the tower would be built, collected over 500 signatures from those in the community who opposed the tower and spoke at the Planning Commission public hearing on November 2. He repeated his concerns in addressing the supervisors, asking them “not to put dollars before people.”
Lee said he moved to Stonebridge “for the park, the greenway, and the view of the mountain, not to view a cell tower. I don’t understand why Stonebridge Park has to be picked for the tower when there are so many other places.”
Wayne Foster told the board that “there must be a better place for this cell tower rather than a small park in the middle of several residential areas.” He said the tower would be an eyesore in the community, devalue property, and perhaps involve unknown health risks. He suggested the tower be built in a more commercial area. He noted that the park has been in that location for 50-plus years.
“We would ask that you consider how you would feel to have this cell tower in your own backyard,” Foster said.
Another speaker asked why consideration was given to how the cell tower would look from the Blue Ridge Parkway, more so than to how it would look to those actually living in the Stonebridge Park neighborhood.
Virginia Clark, whose daughters use the park several times a day, pointed out that the simulated photographs of the cell tower placement in the neighborhood used scenes with leafy trees in spring and summer, not showing what the tower would look like when trees were barren. She gathered over 200 signatures on a petition prior to the Planning Commission hearing.
The Planning Commission had approved the proposal after a public hearing on November 2, led by Chairman Rick James, who represents the Vinton Magisterial District.
The proposed monopole tower would have been approximately 137 feet in height. The plan was to demolish the existing (but currently unused) restrooms at Stonebridge Park and place the cell tower there.
According to Milestone, there is a need for wireless service in the area as there is a coverage gap. They said the tower would have improved capacity and coverage to the neighborhoods nearby.
According to Milestone, the tower would have been located 410 feet from the closest property line and 430 feet from the closest residence. The fenced compound surrounding the base of the cell tower would measure approximately 50’x50’.
Comments from citizens throughout the approval process included concerns over degradation of the neighborhood, its physical and environmental impact on the park and the Wolf Creek Greenway, health risks, what the actual financial benefit would be to the county, why the Roanoke County School Board turned down the cell towers originally proposed for William Byrd High School and Middle School, and selection of alternative sites.
Josh Kossman, a newcomer to the area from Las Vegas who owns a three-acre farm along the greenway, said in an email, “The main reason we relocated to this location was the beauty, sights, views, and neighborhoods. I feel the building of a cellular tower is not only going to be a nuisance to the neighborhood, but to the greenway, Wolf Creek waterway, and to local animal safety. It will also be an eyesore to the beautiful scenery that we all love. My cellular service has been working perfectly fine, even since COVID-19. I realize there is always need for upgrade, but not at the cost of environmental change. I’m very positive there is another location for this tower that would provide the same coverage with less environmental impact to a local park/greenway that many people and families use on a daily basis.”