Cell Phone Tower an ‘Unacceptable Risk,’ Parents Tell Planning Commission

Proposed cell tower (tree) at Crossfield ES/Courtesy VerizonAn elementary school is no place for a cell phone tower.

That was the message more than a dozen concerned neighbors and parents of students at Crossfield Elementary School told the Fairfax County Planning Commission in more than two hours of testimony Wednesday night.

A county planning staff report recommends approval of Milestone Communications’ application (on behalf of Verizon) for the tower, which they say is necessary to fill in gaps in coverage in the areas off Lawyers Road, including Reston’s Fox Mill Woods neighborhood adjacent to the school.

“This plan introduces an unacceptable safety risk,” said Chris Aiello, representing Parents Advocating for Safe Schools in Fairfax County, a grassroots group recently formed to take on Verizon’s request.

“It directly interferes with future expansion of school and fields. The applicant failed to meaningfully explore other sites. It defies logic placing a 138-foot tower 127 feet from a school.”

The pole, which would be built to look like an evergreen tree, would be able to carry signals from five mobile carriers. The pole would be on a 2,500-square-foot area surrounded by an 8-foot fence.

While the pole will be in a wooded area more than 200 feet from the school, the location is only 127 feet from the Crossfield playground, many citizens pointed out.

The pole will rise about 80 feet above the natural tree line, which Aiello called “a visual albatross.”

Other parents and neighbors had similar concerns. More than 30 Fairfax County Public Schools, including South Lakes High School, have cell towers on their property. However, only one FCPS elementary school has a tower, planning staff said. Parents said they are not willing to let their young children be test cases for radiation.

The cell phone companies pay the landowners to lease the pole space. FCPS, for instance, has made more than $4 million from the arrangement over the last several years, FCPS officials said.

Milestone collects rent from the wireless carriers on its towers, 40 percent of which goes to FCPS. Schools receive $25,000 each time a tower is built, and then $5,000 from each wireless carrier that leases space on the tower.

Other speakers said they were concerned the fenced tower enclosure would be everything from an “attractive nuisance” for pranks to a target for hackers.

Lisa Namerow, a nearby resident with a child set to enter Crossfield next year, said she is concerned about home values, among other things.

“The affected community is deeply opposed,” she said. “Research shows proximity of cell towers has a negative effect on homeowners.”

The planning commission also heard testimony from two Fox Mill Woods residents who said they cannot get coverage in their homes and the tower is needed.

Planning commissioners had questions on other high-tech ways to fill in coverage gaps (they would not work in this case, Milestone reps said) to the possibility of building the tower on Fairfax County Park Authority land nearby.

In the end, the planning commission deferred decision until Oct. 19, after they can get more information from the county’s Hunter Mill Land Use committee. The land use committee meets on Oct. 18.

Photo: Proposed cell phone tower at Crossfield Elementary School/Credit: Milestone Communications.

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