|The Loudoun County Planning Commission’s 6-2 vote on April 26 to approve the commission permit for a 160,000-square-foot, 35-foot-high building on the ridge of Short Hill Mountain in Western Loudoun, with little public notice or input, next goes before the Board of Supervisors at its May 19 meeting in Leesburg.The building, if constructed, will have a huge impact on the rural area’s viewshed (see image below; areas shaded in gold show where building will be visible from), with far-reaching implications for the area’s scenic and rural character.It is vital that members of the Board of Supervisors hear citizens’ concerns about this proposal.
What you can do:
• Become informed about the proposal. There are many unanswered questions about what the facility actually will be—among them whether it in fact constitutes a permitted use under the zoning ordinance, and who will own and operate it upon completion. Noise, light, traffic, power and water needs for a facility operating 24 hours a day with 60 employees working three shifts—these impacts have not been assessed. Read more here.
• Email Supervisors and speak at the BOS meeting this Thursday, May 19 (speaking slots for the 6:30 p.m. period are available). Contact the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors at 703-777-0200 to sign up to speak. Click here for supervisor emails. Catoctin District Supervisor Geary Higgins has said he does “not support the current application as it currently stands.” Supervisors Higgins and Tony Buffington (Blue Ridge) need to hear more from their constituents about citizens’ concerns.• Attend the community meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, May 23, hosted by the project applicant, Parsons Environment & Infrastructure Group Inc. (a private contractor which builds facilities but does not own or operate them), to discuss expansion of the facility at the Lovettsville Game Association building at 16 South Berlin Turnpike, in Lovettsville.
• Notify friends, neighbors, your organization’s membership list, and rural business owners in Loudoun about this precedent-setting intrusion into rural Loudoun, with its irreplaceable scenic assets—that so many of its rural businesses rely upon for their prosperity.
• Share this email and the LCPCC Facebook page link.
Below is a message from LCPCC Chair Al Van Huyck to the applicant and the Board of Supervisors. You also can download a PDF of the document here.
TO : The Loudoun Board of Supervisors
FROM : Al Van Huyck
DATE : May 4, 2016
SUBJECT: UNANSWERED QUESTIONS REGARDING CMPT-2016-0001; AT&T SHORT HILL
The Planning Commission approved the Commission Permit for A&T Short Hill Mountain at their meeting on April 26, 2016. The Board of Supervisors now has 60 days to either to approve or deny the Commission Permit as an administrative decision without a public hearing.
The proposed facility is for a 160,000 square foot structure, 35 feet high and 433 feet long, with eight back-up generators, and eleven air coolers.
The following are unanswered questions or pending issues which should be clarified before the Board of Supervisors takes action.
- The Zoning Administrator has determined that the application is for an expansion of a “Utility Substation, Transmission” which is a permitted use.However, early Staff reviews and several outside experts suggest that this use is for a “Data Center” which is not a permitted use.The County’s Communications Commission should be asked to verify the Zoning Administrator’s decision.
- Is this facility to be a private commercial use or is there a compelling Federal Government need for this facility?The applicant should be required to state whether or not it will be a private commercial use or will it be restricted to Federal Government use.
- The applicant is Parsons Environment & Infrastructure Group Inc. (a private contractor which builds facilities but does not own or operate them) and is not a public utility.Can a contractor be issued a Commission Permit or only the utility owner of the site? The Parsons Company should justify why they are the applicant, and should be required to state their proposed end use for the Commission Permit.
- If AT&T is to be the end user, they should be required to state that they will operate the facility and not sell or lease it to others as a speculative venture.A statement from AT&T should be required as to their commitment to the facility’s use.
- Has AT&T abandoned use of the existing facility? There is some evidence that there is no current activity at the site.A statement from AT&T should be required as to the current use of the existing facility on the Short Hill Mountain.
- There is a great need for broadband in rural Loudoun.Will Loudoun residents obtain any benefits from this facility if built?
- If the Zoning Administrator’s decision stands will any current transmission substation anywhere in Loudoun County be allowed to receive a Commission Permit to be able to massively expand based on this precedent.There are a large number of substations throughout Loudoun County east and west. If this interpretation is allowed to stand will it set a precedent in future cases? The Zoning Administrator should be required to clarify this possible situation.
- A Commission Permit’s test is “whether the general location, character, and extent of the proposed use are in substantial accord with the Comprehensive Plan.”The Staff report states that it is based only on the fact it is an “expansion of an existing “Utility Substation, Transmission” which is a permitted use in the Zoning Ordinance.The Staff should be required to explain that the overall reading of the Comprehensive Plan would not justify this facility on the ridge line of the Short Hill Mountain.
The View Shed analysis included in the application is totally inadequate when compared to a privately generated GIS viewshed analysis.The Staff Report notes the structure will be visible from the valley roads. However, a private analysis indicates the structure will be visible over a wide area of northwest Loudoun from the Catoctin Mountains to the Short Hill Mountain in the east and for miles along the Appalachian Trail and down the valley to below Hillsboro on the west.As such the potential negative impact on many rural economy businesses and residents needs to be considered.The County GIS Department should be asked to conduct an official analysis of the view shed impact of the structure located on the ridge line of the Short Hill Mountains.
UNANSWERED QUESTIONS REGARDING MITIGATION OF IMPACT
The application is vague on important issues which can affect the impact of the facility. If a Commission Permit is approved then there is only approval of the Site Plan left for discussion, and only existing County regulations can be applied. Any special mitigating commitments must be written into the Plat Plan prior to the approval of the Commission Permit. The applicant should be required to make binding commitments regarding the following issues.
- What will be the power requirement needed to service the facilities?The applicant orally stated they will upgrade the power source, but not increase the height of the poles carrying power to the site or seek a new line right of way.However, will there be any changes required in obtaining this power off-site?The power requirements should be put in writing on the Plat.
- The applicant states they will observe the County’s noise regulations. The noise generated at the top of the Short Hill Mountain, even if within County limits, will carry far and wide in the clear, quiet air of rural Loudoun.The applicant should be required to provide a noise suppression plan particularly because of the difficulty of enforcing the County’s noise regulations.
- The applicant states they will attempt to minimize security lighting, but there is no specific information on how this will be done.Lights high on the mountain will be seen over a wide area.The applicant should be required to specify exactly what the lighting requirements will be and how they intend to mitigate the light trespass.
- The applicant states they will use existing wells to supply the water needed for the facility.In Loudoun, if a neighbor’s well runs dry because of a well on another property, there is no recourse.The applicant should be required to produce a hydro study which states the expected water requirements of the facility, the flow of the existing wells, the ground water recharge levels expected, and commit to a water supply management plan.
- The applicant states there will be no impact on the eco-system on the mountain.However, the scale of the structure and the level of activity suggest that there will be a substantial impact on the environment of the Mountain and the birds and animals which make it their habitat.The applicant should be required to undertake an analysis of the impact of the facility on the eco-system on the mountain.
The Board of Supervisors should either reject the pending Commission Permit and return the application to the Planning Commission for further analysis or send the application to TLUC and clarify the answers to the questions identified here.