Representatives from AT&T returned to Mason District Tuesday evening to discuss the company's proposed 128-foot cell tower, which is to be constructed in the Parklawn community, with residents and the Mason District Land Use Committee (MDLUC) at the Mason District Governmental Center in Annandale.
The cell tower, if the application is approved, would be located at 6011 Crater Pl., just outside West End Alexandria, near the Parklawn Pool.
“We are trying to address a coverage gap, but we are also trying to keep up with customer demand,” said AT&T representative Ed Donohue. Increasing customer demand for data, Donohue added, is what’s driving the demand for better coverage. Some residents at the meeting complained that AT&T’s goal with the tower was unclear and confusing, as Donohue previously stated customer complaints about a lack of coverage in the area is what prompted AT&T to consider constructing a tower in the neighborhood.
As requested by the committee at the MDLUC meeting in February, Donohue and AT&T brought presentation slides that showed maps of the projected coverage area for Parklawn with the cell tower and also the projected coverage area for the community at alternate sites which AT&T says were considered as options. The propagation maps shown in the presentation showed the difference in projected coverage at each of the sites.
The alternate locations included parks and schools in Fairfax County and in the City of Alexandria such as Glasgow Middle School, Parklawn Elementary School, Peace Lutheran Church, and William Ramsey Elementary School.
Based on the maps, some residents suggested AT&T put a tower at Ramsey and Peace Lutheran, where there is already a tower, to achieve the needed coverage rather than using the Parklawn pool. Donohue said elementary schools are usually not considered good sites for a cell tower because the campuses are smaller and the necessary facilities aren’t there. Donohue and another AT&T representative reiterated that Parklawn is considered the best and most central location for their intended goal.
“We think it’s an accurate prediction of coverage based on the tools used,” said Donohue.
Others questioned whether the propagation maps depicted a true idea of how coverage could improve with the addition of the cell tower.
Additionally, the presentation showed photos of the tower as just a bare pole without the branches that camouflage it to resemble a tree to see if that was preferable. Some residents argued the photos shown were misleading and said the pole, with or without branches, was still an eyesore for homeowners.
A Community United and Divided by a Cell Tower
The proposed cell tower has divided residents in the Parklawn community into two groups, those who support the tower and those who are against it. Both groups were represented Tuesday night and were very vocal during the question and answer session following AT&T’s presentation, talking over and interrupting one another or shouting questions out of turn.
Of the issues raised, the safety of residents, concerns about the tower’s presence either near or looming over their homes and the effect the tower would have on home property values were discussed the most. Some residents who support the tower argued that increased coverage from the cell tower would allow residents to place emergency calls from places in the neighborhood where cell service is currently not great.
Mike Gates with PACACT, a community group formed to protest the tower, gave a Powerpoint presentation that argued several points against the tower, including that the cell tower is out of character for the community. Gates' presentation accused AT&T of not considering alternative sites, misleading customers on their website about the current coverage in the neighborhood compared to the coverage gap propagation maps shown during the meeting, and called the cell tower "degrading" to the community and a potential safety hazard.
Parklawn Recreation Association (PRA) president Heath Brown read a statement to the committee which stated the following reasons for their support: the "majority of PRA members support the tower on PRA property," the PRA "desires to support demand for better coverage in PRA areas," the tower will "improve cell coverage and provide opportunities for business growth and strengthen safety" and "any financial benefit will be reinvested into the PRA and its property to improve the quality of the establishment," and it will "prevent the pool from becoming a troublesome eyesore for the community."
Despite the comments and presentations, MDLUC Chair Dan Aminoff reiterated a point Janet Hall, representative for Mason District on the Fairfax County Planning Commission, raised at the last meeting about the tower in February: the committee can only consider the issue from a land use perspective.
The MDLUC could not vote on the application as not all members of the committee were present.
The date for the public hearing, originally scheduled for Thursday, April 25 in front of the Fairfax County Planning Commission, has changed. Donohue said they’re hoping to be placed on the May 22 docket, but it is likely the hearing could be pushed back to June.
Parklawn Cell Tower: AT&T Reps Answer Residents' Questions
Neighbors Protest Proposed Cell Tower in Parklawn Community
Parklawn Cell Tower: AT&T Floats Place-Marker Balloon