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Controversial VA Cell Tower Bill Rests in Governor Northam's Hands

Local governments are pressing the governor’s office to make significant changes to a bill governing where and when cell towers can be constructed.

For local governments, the coin of the realm is zoning. Land use decisions are the bread and butter of city councils and board of supervisors, which is why so many of them are upset about a bill now being considered by the governor. They say the bill limits their power to stop the construction of cell towers. Republican Delegate Terry Kilgore says his bill just cuts through red tape.

“I wouldn’t say more difficult. If you read the last clause, it says nothing prohibits. But it does set forth a timeframe for them to them to make the approval process so we can get an approval process that’s predictable.”

More predictable. That’s a line supporters of the bill have been using. They say this bill doesn’t stop local governments from denying cell towers. It just prevents them from dragging the process out in endless zoning board meetings and public hearings.

“That is a generous but absolutely incorrect description of the bill.”

That’s Frank Shafroth at George Mason University.

“It would eliminate most local control over the installation and operation of new wireless structures because it would classify most new wireless structures as administration review eligible projects.”

Shafroth says the governor could amend the bill to give local governments a veto power, allowing them to stop the construction of cell towers they believe would be harmful to their communities.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

This article originally ran on

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