Cell Towers

Consumer demand for cellular phones, paging devices, and other wireless telecommunication services has increased sharply in recent years. The fast-paced wireless communications industry has presented local governments with the challenge of guiding the industry's antennas and support structures to appropriate locations.

Support Structures

Support structures are typically needed for the placement of an industry's antennas to deliver wireless communications. Antennas must be at specific heights (typically between 150' and 200') to transmit and receive radio frequencies adequately. Existing support structures - such as buildings, utility poles, pylons, church steeples, and existing towers - can help accommodate the industry's antennas when they are located in or near a provider's service area.
A white cell phone tower.
Basically, any structure that meets the height requirements needed by the service provider can be adapted to accommodate an antenna. The industry often uses existing support structures when available, but when they are not available the communications provider must construct a support structure - usually a communications pole or tower - capable of supporting its antenna.

Through its development ordinances and Special Use Permit requirements for towers, York County works to ensure that support structures are properly sited. Each potential tower site is different, but there are certain general policies set forth in the Comprehensive Plan that govern where such facilities can be located. Towers should not be located in or near historic areas or along tourist corridors or greenbelt roads and ideally should be located in industrial and commercial areas rather than in residential neighborhoods.

In accordance with the County's policy that it is preferable to have fewer towers, even if that means they have to be taller than they would otherwise be, wireless providers should be required to share towers (i.e., co-locate) whenever possible and existing structures should be used when available. When no other feasible option exists, communication towers will be allowed to encroach on these areas if facilities are designed appropriately and are compatible with the character of the protected areas. In such cases, antenna support structures should be designed to blend into the environment whenever possible. View the tower applications that are currently approved (PDF).

Zoning for Telecommunications Towers

Towers up to 100 feet in height are permitted as a matter of right in the IL (Limited Industrial) and IG (General Industrial) zoning districts; taller towers in these zoning districts require approval of a height exemption by the Board of Supervisors. Any tower must meet the following minimum setback requirements for the zoning district in which it will be located: IL - Front 45 feet, Side and Rear 10 feet; IG - Front 50 feet, Side and Rear 15 feet.

Towers are also permitted in the RC (Resource Conservation), RR (Rural Residential), GB (General Business), and WCI (Water-oriented Commercial/Industrial) districts, but only upon the approval of a Special Use Permit by the Board of Supervisors, with public hearings and Planning Commission review. Towers in these zoning districts must comply with the minimum setback requirements for the zoning district in which they will be located; however, the Board of Supervisors can require a greater setback based on the location and site characteristics.

Policies for Towers Located in Power Pylons

Several towers have been built within existing Dominion Virginia Power pylons in the County. The advantage of this approach is that the visual obtrusiveness of the tower is reduced by utilizing an existing structure that is already fairly conspicuous. These so-called "power towers" do not require approval by the Board of Supervisors if the antennas are less than 5% higher than the pylon; such towers can be approved administratively.

If the tower is more than 5% but less than 25% above the existing pylon, Board of Supervisors approval is required but without a public hearing or review by the Planning Commission. A height increase greater than 25% must go through the full Special Use Permit process, including Planning Commission review and advertised public hearings.