Telecommunications Tower Case Studies

Discreet Wireless Facilities
Albemarle County, VA
By Dale McKeel, Scenic North Carolina

Albemarle County, VA, is showing that wireless service facilities don’t have to be tall, industrial, and intrusive to be effective. Located in central Virginia on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Albemarle County is home to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and the University of Virginia. While the focus of many local governments has been on the co-location of wireless facilities, the emphasis in Albemarle County is on reducing the visibility of wireless facilities.

“The less a personal facility can be seen, the more likely it is that it will be approved,” said William D. Fritz, AICP, who has guided the development of the county’s policy on wireless facilities. The county encourages the mounting of antennas on existing structures, such as rooftops, water tanks, and electric transmission towers. In these locations, design standards are in place to minimize the visibility of antennas.

Where exisiting structures are not available, antennas are often mounted in forested areas on wooden telephone poles that protrude no more than ten feet above adjacent trees. These “treetop towers” are often nearly impossible to spot.

By mounting antennas on shorter structures, wireless carriers will have to build more antenna sites than if the county allowed taller, more obtrusive telecommunications towers. The county has decided that it would rather have more structures that are less visible, rather than fewer structures that are highly visible.

The county has also decided that personal wireless facilities, if appropriately sited and designed, may be appropriate in any zoning district. The county has design standards for ground equipment at these sites, and strongly encourages the use of compact, dual-polarized antennas instead of the “top-hat” arrays that are often seen. Albemarle County’s policies are in accord with the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, which preserves local government’s authority to regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities.