By Geary Higgins.
It’s been a little over two weeks since the Commission Permit for the proposed AT&T facility on Short Hill was overruled by the Board of Supervisors. This is just about the right time to reflect on some important conclusions and observations.
I would like to thank the many citizens who came out and got involved, Catoctin Planning Commissioner Gene Scheel for sounding the alarm and my fellow Board Members for supporting me in denying this application.
A lot of things matter in a process like this. Ridgelines in Loudoun County matter. A 35-foot high, two-story, 160,000-square-foot structure does not belong on any of them including Short Hill. The voices of the residents matter. This is our home where we work and live our day-to-day lives. Being involved makes a difference. The Blue Ridge and Short Hill are the anchors of our community and should never be compromised. The work of the Planning Commission matters – a lot. Take your time, there is no room to maneuver by the time a commission permit gets to the Board. Adequate time must be afforded at the Planning Commission level to review an application as complex as this one.
The Comprehensive Plan matters. Although staff identified four areas supporting the commission permit’s compliance with the plan, I easily identified at least eight areas of noncompliance. However, as important as the Comprehensive Plan is, it serves as a guideline and foundation for the Board’s land use development policies. Findings for approval or denial of an application based on the Comprehensive Plan can be subjective and possibly go either way if litigated, especially since the current plan was adopted almost fifteen years ago.
So, therefore, the law matters. No one wanted to provide a back door avenue for AT&T to litigate the board’s decision to overrule the commission permit and somehow proceed to build a 35-foot-high structure. Denying the application based on the Comprehensive Plan would have done just that.
Monday morning quarterbacks always exist. This situation is no different. Some critics have personal agendas, some just don’t like the board and some don’t have all of the information, but the bottom line is that our goal was achieved. The Planning Commission’s approval of the commission permit was overruled. Furthermore, the findings of the board to dismiss the commission permit based on withdrawal of the application are on firm legal ground. This is a solid victory no matter how you look at it. This application did not go forward.
Where do we go from here? We stay right where we are – vigilant. No motion or board action can guarantee forever. As I mentioned on the night of the vote, this will not be the last we hear about this facility. AT&T still owns the property and the current facility will remain in operation.
I and my staff have spent numerous hours reviewing and researching this application and we are not about to stop now. AT&T’s submission of an updated site plan amendment for the existing permits on the facility should and will draw just as much scrutiny. The Comprehensive Plan needs to be updated. Ridgelines, slopes, mountainside overlay, telecommunications and rural policy areas are critical items that need to be strengthened and reflect the important lessons from Short Hill.
Geary Higgins is a Republican who represents the Catoctin District on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.