The Fairfax County Planning Commission on July 17 approved an application from the Montgomery County Department of Public Safety for a monopole in a secluded site at Riverbend Park on Jeffrey Road in Great Falls.
The park is owned by the Fairfax County Park Authority, which has recently come under fire from citizens for curtailing hours and operations and laying off several seasonal workers.
The wooden monopole would be 75 feet tall and accommodate four antennas and a fifth parabolic antenna mounted halfway up the structure.
The site, once the home of a park ranger, was selected because it already had access from an existing driveway, according to a member of the Fairfax County planning staff who testified at the public hearing. Because the site was already cleared, no trees would have to be cut down.
The master plan for Riverbend Park shows no planned use for the site.
The site already has electrical power and a good line of sight for the signals it will carry.
During a balloon test conducted at the site last month, when summer foliage was fully developed, a balloon raised to a height of 85 feet was not visible from trails or residences, according to Frank Stearns, an attorney representing Montgomery County. “All of those were no-sees,” he said.
Because of a bend in the river, the Virginia site is higher than the Montgomery County side, permitting better signal strength. But existing antennas at the Old Dominion Drive entrance to Great Falls National Park, where the antenna is disguised as a tree, and next to the Great Falls Fire Station, which is owned by the Great Falls Volunteer Fire Department, were “too short and too far away” to be useful, Stearns said.
A spokesman from the Potomac Conservancy, and members of the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA), had no objections to the proposed monopole, said Dranesville District planning commissioner Joan DuBois.
“Just about everyone in Great Falls has weighed in on this,” she said.
DuBois asked Stearns to check with the GFCA “to check if they want it painted.” He agreed.
A public ordinance known as “2232” requires a public hearing to determine that the “location, character and extent” of such a feature meet the requirements of the county’s comprehensive plan, before the conversion of public property for another use.