HERNDON, VA — Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the installation of a monopole between Herndon High School's athletic fields. The vote came after months of opposition by some members of the Herndon community.
"This is a tough case, because I've got a lot invested, as someone mentioned, in the Herndon High School sports area," said Dranesville Supervisor John Foust, during Tuesday's public hearing.
Early in his tenure as supervisor, Foust oversaw the deal between Fairfax County Public Schools and the Fairfax County Park Authority, that helped bring two artificial turf football fields to the high school's sports complex.
"It's just absolutely one of the best experiences I've had since I joined the Board of Supervisors in terms of working with the people who were just absolutely committed to delivering those synthetic turf fields," he said. "We were very fortunate that the Park Authority created a whole new policy as a result. So we have those two great fields."
On Tuesday, however, it was Foust's responsibility, as the supervisor representing the district where the high school is located, to formally make a motion on the joint proposal by Milestone Town Limited Partnership and Fairfax County Public Schools to install the 114-foot monopole between the school's sports fields.
Originally, Milestone proposed building a 124-foot telecommunications tower and support facility, with a five cell carrier capacity. The compound area would take up a total of 2,590 square feet.
Representatives of youth sports teams and high school parents objected to the monopole's location, saying that it presented a danger to children and took up an area where members of the high school band and athletes warmed up.
In response to the public's concerns, the applicants revised their original proposal, shortening the monopole's height to 114 feet and reducing the cell carrier capacity to four. The compound was also downsized to 1,175 square feet and much of its on ground equipment was shifted under the visitors bleachers.
The Fairfax County Planning Commission approved the revised proposal on July 15, sending it to the Board of Supervisors to be considered at Tuesday's public hearing.
Heather Metz, who spoke at the public hearing, is one of the parents who has been opposed to the monopole. Since last fall, she has met with FCPS staff, corresponded with School Board members and supervisors, and spoken before the planning commission.
"We have consistently opposed the monopole because it is taking valuable land from our school that was always intended for use by our community," she said. "It is a hazard to children and because it is unsightly and out of character with the esthetics of our new school renovation."
Metz and other sports boosters collected 425 signatures on a petition in opposition to the monopole, before FCPS closed schools last spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tara Xeller, representing Citizens Against Herndon High Tower LLC, also spoke Tuesday in opposition of the monopole.
"Hundreds of athletes have used this space for years, and now they want to take it away and severely limit that space. ... We use that space. The Comprehensive Plan says you cannot take it if it's used for a public use," she said.
Dannielle La Rosa, representing the Herndon High Schools Sports Boosters Club, said in her testimony that the boosters were not necessarily opposed to a monopole on high school property. They just did not want it located between the two sports fields.
"I'm just here to ask, could we try to find another location?" she said. "We have so much activity in this area. At 6 p.m. every night, this field becomes alive. The elementary school students, the middle school students, all come here for their sports practices. Parents are here. It's really the center of a community hub and youth sports as we all know is a great unifier and this is where we have it."
Once the public hearing was closed, it was up to Foust to make the final motion on the application.
"The problem I have is the characterization of this pole and compound as being in the middle of the fields. That does raise concerns by anyone" he said. "But the reality is, that's not where the pole and the compound are."
Foust went on to say that the revised proposal with the shorter pole and the smaller, relocated compound was a major improvement over the original proposal.
"You can't describe it as being in the middle of the field," he said. "I think everyone has done their best to absolutely minimize the impact of this proposal. ... Ideal? Probably not. But in terms of my ability to act without being arbitrary and ignoring the rules that we have to play by, I can't see how that is having such an adverse impact that it can't be supported."
Foust acknowledged many of the early objections to the monopole centered on the health impacts of the tower, but federal law prevents the board from considering those issues when making a decision like this.
In addition, Foust mentioned FCPS already has 26 schools and three administrative facilities with monopoles.
"The first monopole at a school site was erected 20 years ago, and FCPS reports that since that time there have been no accidents or injuries regarding a monopole," he said. "Regarding the health concerns, all the approved monopoles meet the FCC's regulations for allowable limits for frequency and electromagnetic field power. The school system contracts to have its sites tested annually for RF emission levels and they have never found a problem with any of the existing sites."
Based on Milestone's revision of its original plan to reduce the footprint of the enclosure, Foust moved the application for a vote. The supervisors voted unanimously in favor of the application.
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