News

David Marshall, Former Fairfax County Planner, Joins Donohue & Stearns

Success in Rappahannock County, VA: First Two of AT&T's Proposed Five
Sites Approved

Successful Amendment of the Herndon Town Zoning Ordinance

Donohue & Stearns Donates Sign to the Lyceum: Alexandria's History
Museum

Industry Trends: Locating Wireless Communications Facilities on Public School Property

Donohue & Stearns, PLC Achievements.

Industry Announcements: FCC Identifies Critical Gaps in Path to Future Universal Broadband

Getting Involved: Virginia Wireless Association and State Wireless Associations

 

Industry Trends: Locating Wireless Communications Facilities on Public School Property

Increasingly, School Boards across Northern Virginia are adding high school land to the growing number of properties leased for the purpose of constructing wireless communications facilities. The explanation for this industry trend lies in the increased use of smartphones and the broader desire to bring better coverage to residential areas. While building a cell site in someone’s backyard is not always plausible, high schools are ideal locations.  High School’s often have existing structures, such as field light poles, that are easy for maintenance vehicles to access and don't interfere with the character of residential neighborhoods.

Wireless communications facilities serve as a source of needed revenue for the local school board. As the economy has worsened, school boards have searched for ways to close deficits in their budgets. Revenue from companies who lease property for the purpose of constructing and maintaining a wireless base station and pole on public school property has provided welcomed financial relief and, in some cases, funded programs that may have otherwise been eliminated. In Fairfax County, a county that began leasing public school land for cell site construction in 1995, revenue from those leases has totaled about $3.7 million. When a wireless facility is constructed on public school property both the residents who want faster wireless coverage and the students at the school win.

Donohue & Stearns is leading the way in wireless facility development on Fairfax County Public Schools property.  For example, on September 30, 2010 the Fairfax County Planning Commission followed County Staff’s recommendation and approved Milestone Communication and Clearwire Wireless Broadband’s 2232 application for a 105’ monopole at James Madison High School in Vienna, Virginia. The monopole will replace a light pole on the west side of the press box on the football field and the stadium lights will be remounted on the monopole at their current height. The equipment compound will be located within the fenced area beneath the bleachers at the base of the monopole. The facility will improve Clearwire’s coverage to the west of W. Maple Avenue along Glengyle Drive and Carey, Sunrise, Rambling, Roberts and Knoll Roads. Vienna residents will now experience enhanced wireless service and the students playing on the football field will be able to enjoy needed improvements to the stadium. Public school location of wireless communications facilities is a great compromise for both residents and wireless communications companies.

Donohue & Stearns looks forward to working with future clients to continue the development of wireless facility location projects on public school land.

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Donohue & Stearns, PLC Achievements.

In the past month, Donohue & Stearns, in conjunction with our client Milestone Communications, oversaw the approval of four wireless facilities to be located on Public School Property. Come 2011, cell towers will be located at the following schools: Irving Middle School, Carson Middle School, James Madison High School and Herndon Intermediate School.

Each application presented unique challenges for our firm.  For example, in order to receive approval to build at the Herndon Intermediate School, Frank Stearns, partner at Donohue & Stearns, had to seek a zoning ordinance amendment.  At the time of application, Herndon’s Zoning Ordinance only permitted wireless telecommunications antennae on existing structures in most zones or new poles in the Office and Light Industrial (O&LI) Zone. Unlike other towns and counties, the Herndon Zoning Ordinance does not provide for construction of wireless facilities via a special exception process. Added to this difficulty was the fact that the only existing structures in Herndon of sufficient height were two water tanks in discrete areas where wireless service was not needed, therefore making collocation on the towers unviable. Additionally, the Dominion Virginia Power Towers W&OD Trail turned out to be too narrow for useful location.  Since service was needed in major parts of the Herndon, the Herndon Middle School provided a great alternative for servicing a majority of town residents.  

Frank Stearns, working closely with Herndon’s planning office, came up with and sought approval for a Zoning Ordinance amendment. This amendment, once voted on, would allow for the opening up of public land for the construction of new poles up to 125’ in height and the accompanying equipment structures upon approval of a Special Exception.  On November 1, 2010, the Planning Commission, following a public hearing, recommended approval of the amendment. On December 14, 2010, the Town Council will hold a public hearing and consider the Zoning Ordinance amendment.  

Donohue & Stearns is confident of the amendment’s acceptance and looks forward to working with the town of Herndon on many more wireless facility development projects.

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Industry Announcements: FCC Identifies Critical Gaps in Path to Future Universal Broadband

On November, 18, 2010, the FCC task force gathering data and developing draft proposals for the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan identified critical gaps in the nation’s policies, programs and practices that must be filled before America can take advantage of the technological advantages that universal adoption and deployment of affordable, robust broadband can bring. The task force developed a varied list of critical gaps, the most relevant to our clients being the spectrum gap.

According to the task force, spectrum gap frustrates mobile broadband growth. In coming to this conclusion, the taskforce pointed out that smartphone sales are expected to overtake standard mobile phones by 2011. Smart phone subscriptions have increased by 690% since 1998, while over-the-air TV viewership decreased by 56%. Additionally, though consumers are quickly adopting new technology, identifying available spectrum, reallocating it, and assigning it is often a long, multi-year process. The FCC realized that  steps should be taken to enable a speedier deployment process not just to sate consumer appetite for faster wireless speeds, but also to ensure that spectrum’s critical role  in public safety, telemedicine, smart grid, and civic engagement applications continues to operate in an efficient and continuous manner.

Donohue & Stearns strongly supports the FCC’s policy direction. Currently, our firm is helping AT&T build a series of wireless communications facilities in Rappahannock County, VA. Once all of these sites are constructed, Rappahannock County residents will experience broadband and wireless service in a way never thought possible in rural counties.  Rappahannock County students will be able to use the internet to research school projects and all citizens will be safer due to the increased capacity of E-911. Construction of these facilities is a great step forward in the plan to provide broadband and wireless services to rural towns and counties, but that progress can only be helped by closing existing spectrum gaps. Donohue & Stearns is actively following the FCC’s development of a National Broadband Plan and will continue to keep its clients informed.

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Getting Involved: Virginia Wireless Association and State Wireless Associations

With all that’s going on in the wireless industry right now, it’s a great time to get involved in your local state wireless association. State wireless associations provide ample opportunity to meet others in your industry, learn about industry trends and influence local and national policy.  Donohue & Stearns enthusiastically supports the Virginia Wireless Association (VWA) and the Maryland-DC Wireless Association (MDDCWA). We encourage our clients and friends to join the VWA, the MDDCWA or their local wireless association.

The VWA promotes the wireless industry and allows for the exchange of ideas and the development of synergetic relationships between members of the VWA and beyond. The VWA strives to educate the public and Virginia's political boards and leaders, and cooperates with other wireless organizations, especially in Maryland and Washington, DC. The VWA Regulatory Committee focuses on dealing with regulatory obstacles that impact the wireless industry. In addition, the Regulatory Committee works to fight any legislation that adversely impacts the industry and actively proposes legislation that will benefit the industry. If you are interested in the VWA, would like to join or would just like a little more information, please visit their website at the following link: http://www.vawireless.org/index.htm

If you would like to get a jump on meeting other industry members in the Maryland-DC area, the MDDCWA is hosting a holiday happy hour social on December 9, 2010 at 5:30pm. The event will be located at Union Jack’s British Pub in Columbia, MD. This is a great opportunity to hear about the events scheduled for 2011 and to network with  industry professionals.  There is no fee for the event and registration is not required.  A full cash bar will be available.  Complimentary appetizers will be provided by the Maryland DC Wireless Association.  A member of the U.S. Marine Corps will be attending the event to collect toys to support Toys For Tots. For more information, you can visit the event website at: http://www.mddcwa.com/Events.html

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