POWHATAN – The Powhatan County Planning Commission recently approved two telecommunications towers to help upgrade the county’s emergency radio communications system.

During the commission’s meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1, the four members present voted unanimously to recommend approval of a telecommunications tower at 1725 Cook Road and another at 2040 Anderson Highway. Both received conditional use permits for telecommunications towers up to 400 feet in height.

Thomas P. Nolan, director of emergency 911 communications, spoke to the commission about how these two towers would be part of building up a next generation 911 system that allows first responders to communicate no matter where they are in the county. This is part of the county’s plan to replace its land mobile radio system (LMR), which is no longer supported.

The Cook Road tower’s location was chosen because it gives the maximum coverage for the greatest return on investment, he said.

“That geographic location that right now is underserved doesn’t have any other options. There are no towers; there is nothing else there,” he said.

The county is building out a 20-year system, but the towers will last much longer than that, Nolan said. Verizon has agreed to locate on the Cook Road tower, giving the county the opportunity to make some money off of it and give residents a better chance of making calls.

The second tower will be located on an undeveloped portion of a parcel currently occupied by Dutoy Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, Nolan said. Having the tower will allow the county to not rent tower space at a lower level, meaning the coverage wouldn’t be as good.

Nolan talked about the county’s plan to replace the LMR system. The board of supervisors moved forward in March on executing a contract with Harris Corporation in Lynchburg to build a $9.7 million LMR system.

Replacing the county’s current outdated system has been in the works for several years as it is no longer supported and is basically being maintained by buying used parts when equipment needs to be replaced. The new system will serve emergency 911 communications, fire and rescue, the sheriff’s office, emergency management, and the school system.

The total funding for the project is just over $10.7 million, which includes $9.2 million in bond funding for the LMR project, more than $1 million in bond funding for towers and money for interest and a transfer from the general fund, Nolan said. Subtracting $975,170 non-system expenditures the county has either spent or is projected to spend, that leaves the $9.7 million left to actually build the communications network and towers.

During the public hearings on the towers, Floyd Green, former communications director; fire and rescue chief Phil Warner, and Taylor Goodman with Company 2 spoke about the necessity of the towers. They stressed the need for a better LMR system both to serve and protect the citizens of the county and provide better communications for first responders while working.

During the Cook Road tower public hearing, Margaret Taylor, who lives on that road, said she would not feel comfortable or safe living so close to a tower. She said her church, Mt. Pero Baptist Church, had the opportunity to lease land to a cell tower company in 2018 but turned it down because of several studies that state radiation from cell towers can possibly cause health problems. She asked a number of questions about the safety of the tower, its visibility, the effects on humans and animals, and more. Nolan addressed several of those questions after the public hearing.

The commission was also interested in knowing if the towers could be used to help with the county’s broadband coverage, and Nolan said it did.

The cases for the two towers will now be heard by the Powhatan County Board of Supervisors, likely at its meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 28 in the Village Building.

Other business handled by the planning commission included:

* The planning commission unanimously recommended approval of a conditional use permit (CUP) for HCE Powhatan Solar 1 to permit a solar energy farm. It is a small-scale, 5 megawatt project that would involve 23.5 acres of fenced in area but only 8.2 acres with solar arrays on them. Davis Plunkett, development project manager for Holocene Clean Energy, gave a brief presentation to the commission regarding issues they had wanted to be flushed out. He especially focused on vegetative buffers that will keep the solar farm from being seen and the driveway that will be used to enter and exit the property.

* The commission unanimously recommended approval of a rezoning application for Stavemill II LLC to rezone about 16.19 acres at the southeast corner of the Anderson Highway and Stavemill Road intersection from General Commercial (C) and General Commercial with proffered conditions to Commerce Center (CC) with proffered conditions. The subject properties are undeveloped parcels within Stavemill Crossing, a commercial development in eastern Powhatan County. The C zoning district currently permits fewer uses by-right than when the project was originally rezoned in 2003. To allow a greater variety of commercial uses by right, the applicant is requesting rezoning to CC with proffered conditions. Attorney Mark Kronenthal pointed out that all offsite traffic improvements have been built and existing pad sites, no longer owned by the applicant, were constructed before the county initiated zoning changes to GC. During the public hearing, resident Carl Schwendeman asked about the developer adding a sidewalk along the project.

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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