Towering Over Harrisonburg

Brent Finnegan -- August 11th, 2009

There’s a story in today’s DNR about Shentel’s request to erect a “communications” tower on 33 between I-81 and downtown. The issue is presented as a conflict between signal coverage for Shentel, and beautification plans for the city.

I’ve written about cell towers before. Except those are on Norfolk-Southern’s right-of-way, which makes me wonder why that wouldn’t be an option in this case. Shentel will make their case to City Council this evening.

20 Responses to “Towering Over Harrisonburg”

  1. Bubby Hussein, Hillbilly Sheikh says:

    Shentel? Who are they? I don’t know of anyone with “Shentel” wireless service. Will they use this coveted tower install to middle services to Ntelos, Verizon Wireless, AT&T? In which case, cut out the middleman and deal with the real players…and cut a deal favorable to the City.

  2. Anne Lorimer says:

    Why is the cell tower universally taken to be ugly? It has quite an elegant shape, at least in the photo accompanying Brent Finnegan’s earlier article.

  3. Bubby Hussein, Hillbilly Sheikh says:

    A cell tower was erected at Massanetta Springs… guess it was a “stealth” BOS approval.

  4. Nicholas Detweiler-Stoddard says:

    The DNR article cites Shentel’s claim that the tower will only stick 15 feet above the treetops. Unfortunately, the top portion of a tower is the most unsightly portion.

    Does the water tower on Vine and E. Washington sport any antennae (it is on the same ridge as the proposed Shentel tower)?

  5. JGFitzgerald says:

    It’s the view-shed tax: You want cell phones, you need the towers, and they need to be on high ground. Sort of like if you want government services, you have to pay taxes.

  6. Nicholas Detweiler-Stoddard says:

    Council tabled Shentel’s request in hopes that a less conspicuous location can be found on city owned property (for instance, mounted on the beautiful blue water tank).

    Current zoning disallows antenna placement on many of the locations potentially better suited than the one proposed. General sentiment from council was to find a way to amend zoning so that discrete co-mounted antennae could be placed on existing structures

  7. Bell says:

    Another thing not mentioned is the health aspect. When I lived in Luray they built a tower roughly 100 yards from my house. I had 2 dogs die from cancer after that. Could be a coincidence if it was just one, but 2 is suspicious.

  8. Bill says:

    Can’t be any worse than the ugly building erected on the old Joe Bowman lot- talkin about something out of complete character with it’s surroundings???? On the issue of the cell tower itself, if people want cell phones then cell towers are part of the package to make them effective and useful. As far as the comments about the dogs with cancer- certain breeds, such as golden retrievers and other retriever breeds have a high rate of cancer. I had two goldens die within a year apart with cancer and we have no cell towers near our home.

  9. bill says:

    In New Jersey they have cell towers that look like big pine trees.

  10. Scott Rogers says:

    Bill — really?? You’d prefer that the yellow Easterns Automotive building, the vacant and cracking parking lot and the other run down buildings would return — instead of Urban Exchange?

  11. Emmy says:

    I don’t want what was at the location of UE, but I have to admit, I like that building less and less the more I see it. I thought it would grow on me, but it hasn’t.

    As for cell towers, they are a necessary evil if we want to keep our service, which most of us do. The tree disguise isn’t too bad of an idea. Putting it on top of another large structure would probably be a better idea. I think we notice them a lot less in places like that.

  12. Josh says:

    I toured UE a few days ago and I have to admit it’s pretty nice! The interior is well thought-out and the apartments are nicely appointed. But I sure wouldn’t want to live there.

    I think the building’s most appealing factor is the convenient-to-downtown location. That’s what you’re mostly paying for. If you don’t care about the close vicinity to downtown, you’d be better off living elsewhere.

    Anything is better than run-down parking lots and jails. :)

  13. Scott Rogers says:


    For your reference, here is what existed before Urban Exchange was built:

    Before Urban Exchange…

  14. JGFitzgerald says:

    I had forgotten just how yellow that thing was. Lemon yellow? Banana yellow? Mango?

  15. Emmy says:

    Oh I know Scott, I am glad something else is there now. I don’t want that stuff back, but I just hoped that UE would grow on me once it was built and it’s not. It’s still better than what was, and certainly it isn’t going anywhere now.

  16. David Miller says:

    I’m just happy that Easterns is gone because they never disconnected their loudspeaker phone, and it rang constantly. As a neighbor, I was relieved until the UE crew started blasting. Either way I’m glad it’s almost over.

  17. Bill says:

    Scott, I agree that Eastern’s was horrible-, but the UE is really out of character- I wish they would have been more sensitve to the current downtown architectural style- maybe brownstone rather than red brick for example. NO matter what- it’s there and it is an eyesore IMHO. Sorry they didn’t do a better job in the design. Is the business plan for the UE going as planned?

  18. Scott Rogers says:

    Bill — You are certainly entitled to your opinion, though it is surprising to hear that you find Urban Exchange to be an eyesore. Ultimately, I believe we’ll have to wait 10 years (or likely more) to put the design of Urban Exchange into context. I believe Urban Exchange is but the start of a changing landscape and architecture in downtown Harrisonburg. I don’t think it will be a rapid or drastic change — more of a slow evolution, but expect to see more of this evolution with the Colonnade going in on Mason Street, the new city parking deck (if it is built), and other future projects.

    Have you checked out the vision book produced for Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance by Eugene Stoltzfus Architects? It is a publicly recognized and discussed document that will likely serve as a template of sorts for many developers of new and re-hab projects in the downtown area.

    The business plan for Urban Exchange is going well after a mid-course adjustment. We were originally intending to sell half of the units, and lease the other half. Changing condo financing guidelines and greater than anticipated rental interest prompted our decision to lease all of the apartments instead of selling half of them.

    Apartments in the East Wing of Urban Exchange were available as of July 1st, and I believe we’re about 85% – 90% full in that building. The West Wing will be complete on August 20th (in three days), and I believe we’re about 50% leased in that building. The retail space is still available, though we’re involved in conversations with several potential tenants.

    Thanks for asking!

  19. Welby Lehman says:

    I’m in favor of the UE design. I’ve seen it up close a number of times and while there are things I would have done differently, it’s great to see a building with a more modern design. This is a 21st century building using materials and methods of construction from our time; storefront/curtain wall glass, fiber-cement siding, corrugated metal siding, plenty of light/windows, etc. The top floor units with the huge windows are really impressive from inside and frame great views of H’burg and the surrounding landscape.

    One thing that would make it better and probably more palatable to everyone is breaking down the massing to pedestrian scale. This is one of the suggestions Eugene Stoltzfus described in his downtown study. The interior “canyon” is more articulated in this way, but the exterior is fairly monolithic (and gray, which is what everyone sees). “Breaking down the scale” is great, but it’s also a very costly way to build.

    Scott is right. There is a lot more new construction coming and I’d love to see buildings that are respectful of what’s existing but yet represent our current time, ideas, and life. It’s a concept that’s hard to explain in words.

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