The application by AT&T to build a 160,000 square foot facility on the ridge of Short Hill Mountain in northwestern Loudoun took another hit on June 20 when the Short Hill Committee of the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition issued a memorandum urging the county’s Board of Supervisors (BOS) to overrule a previous approval by the Planning Commission when it meets June 23.
AT&T has held that it wants to construct a utility transmission substation on 140 acres of property it owns atop Short Hill Mountain, while others have characterized it as a data center or something else. The company contends that its proposal is an appropriate use of the land and that it has followed an appropriate process for approval. The Planning Commission agreed on a vote of 6-2-1, and on April 26 forwarded the matter to the BOS, which has the option of overruling the commission. Then citizen opposition began to take shape, and supervisors began to hear from individuals and groups questioning not only the process by which AT&T was seeking approval, but also the use itself. Last week, AT&T withdrew its request for a Commission Permit for the facility.
The AT&T withdrawal still leaves the item on the BOS’s agenda for some form of action, and it’s unclear whether the company will seek another approach at a later time if rebuffed this week.
In a press release, committee chair Al Van Huyck said there is “ample evidence to overrule the Commission Permit as not being in substantial accord with the Comprehensive Plan.” He added that the BOS “had a strong legal foundation to overrule [the Planning Commission] based on the court’s prior precedents.”
A county staff memorandum to the BOS also recommends a nay vote. “The purpose of this application is to consider a Commission Permit for a Utility Substation, Transmission in the AR-1 (Agricultural-Rural 1) zoning district,” it reported. “Due to a request by the Applicant to withdraw this application, staff recommends that the Board overrule the Commission’s approval of the Commission Permit.”
Van Huyck credits Supervisors Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) for their “leadership in providing opportunities for the public to express their views” and the BOS for its “thoughtful approach” on the matter. Buffington and Higgins issued a joint statement last week raising concerns about the AT&T proposal in its current form and about the process being followed to secure BOS approval.
In its memorandum to the BOS, the committee cited six areas where it contends that AT&T’s approach is not supported by the Comprehensive Plan:
- The proposed facility is not compatible with the rural economy and rural quality of life as required by the Comprehensive Plan.
- The proposed facility violates the Mountain Policies of the Comprehensive Plan.
- The proposed facility almost certainly violates the Comprehensive Plan requirements on water usage, runoff, sewage disposal and stormwater management.
- The proposed AT&T application for a Commission Permit has not followed the policies required for the proposed expansion of a non-rural commercial uses by the Comprehensive Plan.
- The proposed facility violates Comprehensive Plan requirements for telecommunication’s facilities to be compatible with the area’s natural and historic character.
- The proposed facility does not provide benefits to its neighbors or to the County as required by the Comprehensive Plan.
The committee also said it “explored a number of technical questions regarding the proposed facility and identified issues which had not been addressed by the applicant which could have major negative impacts on the usage of water and disposal of waste water and run-off, the natural environment, and the viewshed.”
The coalition describes itself as a group of 30 nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations concerned with Loudoun’s heritage and environment that meets monthly to discuss issues of mutual concern and take action as needed. The committee itself includes representation from Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains; Unison Preservation Society; Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition; Piedmont Environmental Council; Loudoun Preservation Society; Soil and Water Conservation District; Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy; and Catoctin Creek Scenic River Advisory Committee.