The Fairfax County Planning Commission approved an application Thursday from AT&T for a “replacement light standard” at Lake Braddock Secondary School (LBSS) that would serve as a cell tower and help address a gap in wireless coverage in the surrounding area.
The proposed 120-foot tall light standard would replace one of the 88-foot tall stadium light poles on the south side of the football stadium on the LBSS property located at 9120 Burke Lake Rd. in Burke.
Braddock District Planning Commission representative Nell Hurley introduced the motion for the commission to approve the application. The unanimous vote followed a brief public hearing that included only one speaker who asked the commission to reject the application due to health and safety concerns for Lake Braddock students and the surrounding neighborhood.
“I think that this tower should not be in that particular location. I’m worried about the students and I’m worried about my health,” said resident Fred Silverberg.“ To put this in this neighborhood is really wrong.”
Sully District Planning Commission representative John L. Litzenberger, Jr. disagreed, calling the Lake Braddock football stadium site an “excellent location” for a replacement light standard. Litzenberger added that other schools in the county such as Chantilly High School have had similar facilities exist for five years without complaint.
Frank Stearns, an attorney with Donohue & Stearns who spoke on AT&T’s behalf Thursday, agreed with Litzenberger.
“We support the staff’s recommendation to approve the application. There are other high schools throughout the county that have similar facilities… this is nothing new in the county. It’s a needed site for AT&T to provide services [for AT&T customers,]” said Stearns.
Although residents usually raise the issue of health concerns, Planning Commission Chairman Peter Murphy said the commission is not allowed to consider health concerns when deciding whether to allow monopoles or similar facilities in a community.
“These things have been around ever since I’ve been on the commission so almost 20 years. The health issue’s been looked into. The towers are only needed because everyone wants service. I can’t imagine not having them and I’m not alone. They’ve been in the community for a longtime,” said Planning Commission member and Mason District representative Janet Hall.
Monopole vs. Replacement Light Standard: What’s the Difference?
AT&T originally proposed building a 130-foot tall monopole near the baseball field at Lake Braddock, but resident opposition following a community meeting to the location prompted the company to consider alternative sites.
Other potential sites including the Kings Park Library, Silas Burke Park, the Kings Park Shopping Center were considered by AT&T, the staff report states, but ultimately, it was determined those sites "did not meet the capacity and coverage objectives" for the affected area.
The football stadium at LBSS was then selected as the new site and AT&T re-filed their application to request a “replacement light standard” instead of a monopole.
Under the Fairfax County zoning ordinance, the structure is referred to and evaluated as a “replacement light standard” rather than a monopole since it replaces a light pole, according to Doug Hansen, a reviewer with the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning.
The standard could accommodate up to as many as four additional carriers. The equipment for the cell tower antennas on the replacement light standard will be stored in a 3,003 square foot compound located under the stadium bleachers. A 183 square foot generator compound will be built west of the equipment compound bleachers and provide emergency backup power for the antennas in the event of a power outage or failure.
The height of the generator was reduced from 9.8 feet to 7.4 feet so that it wouldn’t be taller than the proposed 8-foot tall screening. The surrounding screening for the compound was also changed from a chain link fence to purple cinderblock walls to “enhance durability and match similar walls on the [Lake Braddock] athletic fields,” according to the staff presentation.
AT&T plans to have the replacement light standard installed in the months between the end of the football season and before the start of the spring sports season.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story indicated AT&T's application would go before the Board of Supervisors for approval. Since the replacement light standard will be installed on public property, the Planning Commission's decision is all that's needed to approve the application.