Civic Association Newsletter

January/February 1997 - Volume 20, No. 4


The Association has received a letter from Anton Gardner, County Manager concerning proposed Interim Guidelines to be used in reviewing applications for placement of telecommunications facilities on County-owned property that are received before a "comprehensive policy" is adopted by the County Board. A copy of the letter, an explanatory staff report, and the draft Interim Guidelines are enclosed for your review.

Also, for your information, the draft Interim Guidelines will be discussed at the Arlington County Civic Federation meeting on Tuesday, February 4, 1997, to be held at the Arlington Hospital's Til Hazel Conference Room, beginning at 7:30 p.m. This meeting is open to members and the general public. The County Board is scheduled to review the draft Interim Guidelines at its February 22, 1997 meeting.

County Manager Letter to Association

Dated January 13, 1997

Arlington County is an attractive market for wireless telecommunications companies. Recently, the rapid growth of the wireless industry has increased requests for placing telecommunications facilities on County-owned property.

County staff is developing a comprehensive policy on telecommunications for the County Board's consideration. Guidelines for placement of telecommunication facilities on County-owned property will be a part of that policy. In the meantime, staff is proposing Interim Guidelines to be used in reviewing applications for placement of facilities that are received before the policy is adopted. A copy of the draft Interim Guidelines, together with an explanatory Staff Report, is enclosed for your review.

The County Board is scheduled to review the draft Interim Guidelines at its February 22, 1997 meeting. If you have comments or concerns about the Interim Guidelines, you should attend the County Board meeting or communicate your views to the County Board before that meeting. It is expected that on March 8, 1997 the County Board will apply the guidelines it approves in reviewing a request to place a new telecommunications facility on the County-owned Minor Hill site in North Arlington.

Incorporating community input into the development of the Interim Guidelines is essential. Your views are very important in the consideration of the policy. Please do not hesitate to contact Tom Miller of the County's Planning staff at 358- 3525 if you need additional information or have any questions.


How cellular communications operate

Cellar communications operate by linking a wireless network of radio wave transmitting devices (portable phones, pages, fax machines or car phones) to the conventional ground-wired communications system (telephone lines) through a series of short-range, contiguous cells.

Cellular communications work on a "line of sight" principle. Each phone or fax user must be able to "see" the antennae in order for the connection to be completed so that each company must set up a grid system of antennae cell sites to have a network with few or no holes in service. As the number of phones, faxes, and other data communication devices increases, the grid will become denser. Multiple telecommunications antennae can be supported on a single freestanding pole, referred to as a "monopole."

The typical cellular antennae equipment is usually a panel antenna about fifty-four (54) inches long, nine (9) inches wide and three (3) inches thick. Generally, the antennae are mounted on a roof or attached to a penthouse wall in three groups of three antennae each. Each group of antennae covers 120 degrees, and the three groups therefore provide 360 degrees coverage. Equipment cabinets generally measure five (5) feet tall by five (5) feet long and two (2) feet deep typically are located near the base of the pole.

Current placement of telecommunications facilities

The Arlington County Zoning Ordinance does not contain specific language concerning placement of telecommunications facilities or cellular antennae. However, Section 31.B.2.b of the Ordinance permits noncommercial radio towers or masts to exceed the height limit of a district by no more than twenty-five (25) feet. Under this provision, antennae have been treated as accessory uses and have been permitted to be located on office, residential, and hotel buildings, if the following criteria are met: 1) Their size does not exceed two (2) meters; 2) The antennae are not visible from adjacent streets (for those antennae located on building roofs); 3) The antennae must be located on the main roof rather than the penthouse or side of the building; and 4) The color of the antennae should match the building's roof or penthouse color.

Using these criteria, in the past three years, staff has approved administratively a number of antennae sites, most of them on buildings in the Rosslyn-Ballston and Crystal/Pentagon City metro corridors. Antennae also have been placed on two church steeples. The [information] below lists the administratively-approved antennae sites.

  1. Potomac Towers, Office Building, 1996
  2. Printing Industries, Office Building, 1994
  3. Arland Towers, Office Building, 1994
  4. Rosslyn Center, Office Building, 1995
  5. Key Bridge Marriott, Hotel, 1994, 1995,1996
  6. The Weslie Condominiums, Residential Building, 1996
  7. Courthouse Plaza, Office Building, 1994
  8. Quality Inn, Hotel, 1996
  9. The Meridian, Residential Building, 1994, 1996
  10. Tower Villas, Residential Building, 1996
  11. Ballston Plaza III, Office Building, 1995, 1996
  12. Crystal Park, Office Building, 1995, 1996
  13. Crystal Gateway, Office Building, 1996
  14. Crystal Gateway II, Office Building, 1996
  15. Sheraton National, Hotel, 1994, 1996
  16. Hyatt Crystal City, Hotel, 1994, 1996
  17. Doubletree Hotel, Hotel, 1996
  18. Chatham Condominium, Residential Building, 1994, 1996
  19. Country Club Towers, Residential Building, 1996
  20. Tanglewood Condominium, Residential Building, 1996
  21. Dorchester Apartments, Residential Building, 1996
  22. Lorcum Lane Condominiums, Residential Building, 1996
  23. Church of the Covenant, Church Steeple, 1996
  24. Walker Chapel Church, Church Steeple, 1996
  25. AT&T Tower Garden City, Tower, 1996
  26. Potomac Towers, Residential Building, 1996

In addition to the above facilities, the County Board has approved telecommunications equipment in "S-3A" zoned districts by special exception under Section 3.A.10.b. of the Zoning Ordinance. An identical provision in Section 5.A.6.h. allows special exception use permits in other districts as well.

Only one monopole has been approved by the County Board under the Zoning Ordinance provisions as a conditional use. The pole is located on Virginia Department of Transportation right-of-way property located at Old Glebe Road and Military Road in North Arlington (27). The pole was approved by special exception use permit in 1993 and is permitted subject to a number of conditions pertaining to site landscaping, screening, co-location, and periodic reviews of the use permit. Bell Atlantic, Cellular One, and American Personal Communications (APC) have located antennae on the pole and have individual equipment structures at the base of the pole, pursuant to use permit amendments approved by the County Board.

In January 1995, the County Board approved a special exception use permit for APC to install antennae equipment on the County-owned Lee Pumping Station water tower at 2400 North Wakefield Street (28). A use permit to allow the County's Emergency Communication Center to place equipment on the tower was approved in 1991. Recently, the County Board approved the addition of antennae on an existing Virginia Power transformer pole adjacent to the East Falls Church Metro station (29).

Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996

Section 704 of the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 expressly preserves local zoning or land use authority over wireless telecommunications facilities placement, construction, and modification, subject to the following conditions:

  1. Local zoning requirements may not unreasonably discriminate among wireless telecommunications providers that compete against one another.

  2. Local zoning requirements may not prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the provision of wireless telecommunications services.

  3. A local government must act on a request for permission to place, construct, or modify wireless telecommunications facilities within a reasonable time.

  4. Any decision denying an application to locate, build, or modify wireless telecommunications facilities must be in writing and must be based on substantial evidence in a written record.

  5. A local government cannot deny an application for authorization to place, construct, or modify a personal wireless facility on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations concerning such emissions.

Economic development impact

Modern, effective, and efficient telecommunications is an essential part of an attractive economic development environment. Accommodating an appropriate telecommunications infra-structure and making wireless services available to residents and businesses are important factors to be taken into account. The County, through the guidelines, seeks to encourage improvements in telecommunications facilities and services while mitigating the impacts on residents and nearby land uses.

Telecommunications facilities on County-owned property

As cellular providers seek to provide services to less densely- developed areas of the County, they need to place facilities in or near to residential areas. In some cases, they will propose locations on County-owned property.

To ensure that proposed antennae locations are compatible with surrounding areas, the draft Interim Guidelines include provisions relating to application requirements, aesthetics, placement, height, landscaping and screening, and community liaisons. The guidelines build on requirements or conditions that have been placed on existing facilities in the County. The objective of the guidelines is to ensure that the physical components of a telecommunications facility are integrated into the overall land use pattern as compatibly as possible, while taking into account legal and practical considerations concerning the placement of telecommunications facilities.

The draft of Interim Guidelines for the Placement of Telecommunications Facilities on County-owned Property follows.


1. Telecommunication facilities, including monopoles and antennae, may be permitted on County-owned properties zoned "S-3A" Special Districts and designated "Public" or "Government and Community Facilities" on the General Land Use Plan in residential areas, if there is no technically suitable, available site on an existing structure within the area that the cell is to serve.

2. Any use of County-owned property under these guidelines will require approval of a special exception use permit by the County Board pursuant to Section 3.A.10.b of the Arlington County Zoning Ordinance.

3. An application for a special exception use permit pursuant to these guidelines must include the following:

A. a site plan drawn to scale showing the property boundaries, telecommunication facility location, support structure location, any existing structures or accessory uses, access, parking, fences, landscape plan, and existing land uses around the site, including all adjacent structures on adjoining properties;

B. a written description of the facility design and a diagram of the cross-section of the facility and any support structures;

C. a list of all radio frequencies (transmit and receive) that are planned to be utilized at the site (including proposed output levels) and an engineering study to establish that the frequencies will not cause any interference with any County communications systems;

D. for new facilities, a letter of intent committing the applicant and all successors in interest to allow shared use of the facility subject to reasonable terms and conditions for co-location;

E. for new facilities, a landscape plan consisting of the following:

(1) perimeter site landscaping of evergreen trees or shrubs at least four (4) feet high (when planted), with an ultimate height of eight (8) feet, and spaced not more than fifteen (15) feet apart.

(2) at least one row of evergreen shrubs or trees within twenty (20) feet of the base of the monopole, and enclosure by a black or green-coated vinyl fence around the base.

(3) screening of any support structure of an eight-foot fence or evergreen hedge with an ultimate height of eight (8) feet and planted height of four (4) feet.

(4) preservation of existing on-site vegetation to the maximum extent possible.

4. Any monopole proposed under these guidelines must meet the following criteria:

A. Monopole must be camouflaged and be designed to be aesthetically and architecturally compatible with the surrounding environment.

B. The facility should be so located on the site that when it is viewed from residential areas and the public right-of-way, it is neither visually solitary nor the most prominent feature of the site.

C. Support cabinet structures must be aesthetically and architecturally compatible with the surrounding environment. The use of residentially compatible materials such as wood, brick or stucco will be required. Metal exteriors will not be permitted for accessory buildings.

D. Any cabinet structure shall be no greater than seven (7) feet in height and 500 square feet in area and just be located within fifteen (15) feet of the base of the pole.

E. The base of the monopole and any supporting structure must be screened from view of residential properties by a fence or hedge of adequate height and density.

F. Unless otherwise required by the Federal Aviation Administration or the Federal Communications Commission, the monopole shall not be illuminated. If a pole is required to be illuminated, the illumination will be effectively shielded from neighboring residential properties.

G. The height of any monopole shall not be more than is reasonably necessary, and, in any event, shall not exceed one hundred (100) feet, as measured from the base of the pole to the top of the antennae.

H. Any monopole must be located so that the distance from the base of the pole to any adjoining property line, right-of-way, or any existing structure is at least the same distance as the pole's height. Accessory buildings or structures should be located a minimum of fifty (50) feet from any adjoining property line.

5. If a facility is to be located on an existing structure, including Lee Pumping Station water tower, the applicant must:

A. demonstrate that the facility is physically and structurally compatible with the existing structure;

B. comply with the requirements set forth in paragraph 4 above, to the extent applicable and relevant.

6. All plans submitted in connection with an application submitted under these guidelines, including those relating to landscaping and location of equipment, shall be subject to approval of the County Manager or his designee.

7. Any use of County-owned property under these guidelines will require execution by the applicant of a lease agreement with the County acceptable to the County Board. Lease agreements for telecommunications facilities will address issues including, but not limited to, access for maintenance, removal on cessation of use, availability and charges for shared use, compensation to the County for use of public property, and reimbursement of costs incurred by the County.

8. Any facility approved under these guidelines must comply with Federal Communications Commission regulations relating to radio frequency emissions.

9. A community liaison must be established by the applicant with all adjacent civic associations prior to construction of the facility.

10. An application submitted pursuant to these guidelines may be rejected if it is not consistent with safety requirements or is inconsistent with other uses of the property.

11. Upon showing of special circumstances, the County Board can depart from the above requirements and conditions.

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