Special Report to the Cape Charles Mirror by Ken Dufty
A&N request for approval of a communications tower that they built without securing the required Special Use Permit prior to the construction of the 180′ tower.
Butch Williamson, president and CEO of ANEC, presented to the Board on the issue of a 180′ communication tower the company had erected on land it purchased, said tower built to bridge a
communication gap between system components in Exmore the Bayview area. Our current zoning requires that an applicant apply for a SUP before beginning construction of such a facility, a step that ANEC failed to take.
An adjacent landowner, Jeff Walker, informed the board that the tower has rendered his private airstrip, a facility that he has used for 35 years, unusable as the tower was placed in direct line of flight at the end of his runway. Mr. Walker told the board that he has been treated with respect and dignity during the negotiations over the tower placement, and that he has great respect for
ANEC, its representatives, and the services that this co-op provides. Note here that this sentiment was echoed by all the supervisors during the course of this long and painful deliberation. Also appearing before the board was Mr. Betit, a planner for ANEC.
ANEC’s defense was that they were given poor legal advice in regard to the need for a public utility to comply with zoning requirements. Mr. Walker presented that if ANEC moved the tower 1,000 feet laterally in either direction, it would alleviate the current obstruction to his flight path and he could once again use his runway as he had for the past three-plus decades. ANEC responded that they did not own enough land on either side of their parcel that would facilitate such a relocation. In the end, it was clear that his landowner had exhausted all of his remedies in negotiations with the applicant, and that tabling this deliberation would not result in a negotiated settlement.
Finally, Mr Williamson argued that the property they purchased was theirs and that they should be allowed to do with it whatever they wanted. [personal note here…..we could tell by the shifting of the seats from our core attendees that this argument was strangely similar to the debate that ensued between the vast majority of Northampton County citizens and a small handful of private
interests including Planning Commission members during the 2014-15 zoning fiasco and the current support for changes in our Comp Plan by the Planning Commission that promotes “byright”
development without consult with neighboring property owners].
This defense prompted a well reasoned lecture by Chairman Murray on why communities have, and indeed the need for, zoning laws. Chairman Murray informed the audience as well as the
applicant that zoning serves at least several major purposes. First, it allows residents to say what they want their community to look like, as articulated in their Comprehensive Plan which serves as the basis for zoning ordinances , restrictions, and allowances. Second, it gives neighbors to a pending proposal the right to come before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors and register their concerns, approval, or dissent to a pending land use that may or may not be compatible with the comfortable enjoyment of their life and property.
Chairman Murray relayed what clearly represented the majority feeling of the board that they felt Mr. Walker was not fairly treated by ANEC, as he was never consulted about the tower before ANEC erected it, rendering the use of Mr. Walker’s airstrip null and void (a “taking”).
One of the outstanding questions presented to Mr. Williamson was delivered by out-going supervisor (by his own decision) Larry LeMond. He asked the ANEC CEO what would happen if
ANEC had complied with county law and applied for a SUP for the 180′ tower at the end of Mr. Walker’s runway before they had erected it and the BOS and/or PC had denied it. Mr. Williamson responded that ANEC would have built the tower anyway.
Before voting on this issue, each Supervisor anguished over the situation they had been placed in regarding this debate. Oliver Bennett said this decision was one of the “toughest” votes he had ever had to make. Supervisor LeMond said ANEC delivers outstanding service to Northampton County and lamented that ANEC had put the supervisors in a “terrible situation”. Supervisors Duer and Hogg similarly registered their votes on this issue with great reluctance due to the stated importance of the services ANEC delivers.
In the end, again with great reluctance on the part of all, the Board voted unanimously to send a letter of non-compliance to the applicant, the first step in having the tower re-situated to a location that does not violate zoning or the use and enjoyment of neighboring property owners.