WESTMORELAND COUNTY, Virginia (STPNS) -- After six years of discussion and major public expenditures of public funds, the Westmoreland Supervisors took action last Wednesday to facilitate delivery of wireless high-speed Internet service in remote locations that would not otherwise be served.
The action came despite the previous week?s Westmoreland Planning Commission recommendation against adopting the ordinance amendment that would relax height restrictions previously imposed on communications devices used for transmitting the broadband signals.
On November 5 the Commissioners expressed concern that the amendment would allow anyone to place an antenna in their yard without notifying neighbors or the public. They felt that having a mechanism for considering the feelings of adjacent property owners was as important as making the service available to a community.
Westmoreland Planning Director Gary Ziegler advised the Planning Commissioners and the Westmoreland Supervisors that the intent of the amendment was to make high-speed Internet service available to county citizens in a manner that would provide administrative oversight as part of the transmission devices? proposed approval process.
On September 10 the Supervisors authorized a series of public hearings on the proposed amendment. The Supervisors conducted their public hearing on October 10 but delayed action until the Planning Commission?s November 5 public hearing.
The ordinance amendment approved last Wednesday by the Westmoreland Supervisors
Allows the broadband transmission devices to be placed on privately owned properties at heights of 125 feet or less.
County regulations previously required land owners to go through a time consuming advertised public hearing process in an effort to obtain a special exception permit allowing the communications device to exceed the prior regulation?s 45-foot height restriction.
As previously noted, the Supervisors? November 14 action pertains only to broadband Internet transmission devices that will be strategically located in order to bring the high-speed Internet service to areas not reached by fiber optic cables.
Virginia Broadband is the entity engaged in the public-private partnership created to make the service available on the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula as part of a large-scale economic development initiative.
During the Supervisors? November 14 discussion of the amendment, County Administrator Norm Risavi advised that the Planning Commissioners had seemingly misunderstood the measure, supposing incorrectly that antennas would be mounted on poles or trestle towers at 80 or 90-foot heights in the yards of every homeowner subscribing to the service.
?The Commissioners were confused because they thought everyone would have this pole,? Risavi stated. Instead, as few as two or three transmission devices are to be placed in locations that will ensure service to extended areas, covering multiple neighborhoods.
Risavi explained that the ordinance amendment had been styled to generate the outcome realized as the result of similar language in place in neighboring Northumberland.
?Northumberland and other jurisdictions are able to make the service available much faster because of what they now allow by right,? he told the county supervisors.?
?This ordinance amendment is internet specific,? Board of Supervisors Chairman Darryl Fisher said. ?Our intent is to speed up the process of getting the high-speed Internet service out here in Westmoreland County. The grey area with the Planning Commission was that they thought this would give everyone an opportunity to put a tower in their yard.?
County Attorney Tom Bondurant agreed. ?You?re on track,? he said to Fisher. ?I think the Planning Commission was somewhat confused. This applies only to internet devices.?
Supervisor Lynn Brownley expressed concern about the Commissioners? purported confusion on November 5. Brownley noted that he had attended the Planning Commission meeting and had heard the discussion.
If the Commissioners misunderstood the language of the proposed amendment, why, Brownley asked, had the County Attorney made no attempt to correct their understanding of the matter?
The Supervisors? vote to adopt the ordinance amendment was 4-1, with Brownley voting no to the relaxed new standard.
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