A contentious proposal to place an AT&T transmission utility substation along the ridgeline of Short Hill Mountain east of Neersville and north of Hillsboro appears to be over, for now at least, after the company withdrew its request Monday for a commission permit.
AT&T submitted a commission permit application for the facility, which the Loudoun County Planning Commission approved in April. However, the Board of Supervisors has the ability to overrule the planning commission’s approval if it acts within 60 days, by June 25. The board had planned to take action during its regular meeting on June 23.
The item remains on the board’s June 23 meeting agenda, and Supervisors likely will take up the issue and vote to reverse the planning commission’s earlier decision, according to a message Supervisors Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) sent to constituents on Tuesday.
The approved commission permit, the supervisors stated in the message, “ultimately did not provide adequate protection of Short Hill or preservation of the rural character of the rural policy area.”
Among the concerns raised in public comment were that AT&T had ulterior motives and this would be a data center, or possibly some type of high-level government facility. Concerns were also expressed about placing such a facility along the Short Hill ridgeline. In a letter withdrawing the application, AT&T reaffirmed that their plans were strictly for telecommunications.
“My assessment was that the evidence is quite overwhelming that it should be overturned,” said Al Van Huyck, who along with a committee of other residents opposed the approval of the commission permit. “There are so many questions left about what the environmental impacts are on the mountain.”
AT&T insists there were no hidden motives.
“The upgrades would have provided Loudoun County businesses and residents additional opportunities to receive a variety of services such as WiFi, entertainment, high-speed internet and, eventually, enhanced wireless broadband services,” Scott D. Rushin, a principal-technical architect with AT&T, adding that “the site is not a data center and our planned upgrade would not have converted into one.”
Van Huyck said he is concerned that impacting western Loudoun’s view shed in such a manner would have negative impacts on the rural economy.
Rushin said AT&T invested $89 million in Loudoun from 2013 to 2015 and that the company’s representatives “aspire to be good neighbors.”