SB 255: A Sweetheart Deal for Big Telecom

Update: Good news! SB 255 has been continued until 2023.

photo of cell tower with forests and mountains in background
Image by Hugh Kenny/PEC

Is it Valentine’s Day? Because SB 255 is a sweetheart deal for big telecom companies. This bill before the Virginia Senate would effectively prevent counties, cities, and towns from denying any proposed cell tower under 150 feet in height, making it extremely difficult to protect important cultural, scenic and environmental resources. (Note: the original bill set the height at 200 ft and has since been amended to 150 ft.)

The legislation from Senator John Bell (D-13) states that a proposed structure cannot be denied if it would provide “additional wireless coverage or capacity for first responders” or “is not within a four-mile radius of an existing tower that is part of the applicant’s network.” These are standards nearly any cell tower proposal would meet. The bill also makes it extremely difficult for local communities to push for changes in location or height.

SB 255 is in response to an 8-1 decision last year by Loudoun County to deny a deeply unpopular cell tower proposal by AT&T that would have sat above the tree line on a highly visible and scenic ridgeline in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. That project was inconsistent with Loudoun’s planning, in violation of its zoning ordinance, and ignored reasonable alternatives that would have reduced its impact on sensitive resources. Senator Bell wasn’t happy with the local decision to deny the tower and at the time vowed to take state action.

SB 255 is a bad bill intended to help telecom companies override a thoughtful local process, harming local communities and the environment. Further, it is a gift to the telecom industry, which has worked diligently to undermine local authority for decades. View full bill text.