Ire Rises With Plans for Tower

By Kafia A. Hosh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 2, 2008

Last spring, Dominion Virginia Power officials contacted Kim Graff to ask whether they could gain access to her property to install a steel pole more than 100 feet high behind her Leesburg neighborhood. The pole would be part of the transmission line they were building from Leesburg to Hamilton, they said.

Graff said she wasn't pleased to learn of plans to put a tower in her community. But she did not rule out the company's request. "We talked about me giving them an easement along the back of my property," she said.

In late summer, Graff got another unwelcome surprise: Dominion no longer needed her cooperation. In July, the company had bought her next-door neighbor's three-bedroom house on Wage Drive at the end of a cul-de-sac. The purchase price of $695,000 was significantly more than the homeowner's recent tax assessment of $511,000, according to Loudoun County records.

"I had no idea that they were doing any negotiations with them," she said of her neighbors. "I wasn't happy about it."

Now the Leesburg Town Council has taken up the residents' cause, saying that the pole will be an eyesore that will lower homeowners' property values. "There will be no way of hiding it," Leesburg Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd said. "It will be the one thing dominating that neighborhood."

Dominion plans to hold a public meeting this month with residents from Wage Drive and a nearby street to discuss their concerns.

Last week, the council sent letters to state and congressional leaders saying that Dominion had not kept the community informed about its plans. In a letter to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), the council urged him to ask Dominion to find an alternative site for the pole.

Dominion spokeswoman Le-Ha Anderson said that the exact location of the tower had not been determined and that the utility was open to suggestions. But she said the pole, one of many that will carry the 230,000-volt line, must be built within a state Department of Transportation easement that runs along the Route 7 Bypass, which backs up to Wage Drive.

"We are working with some of the neighbors there and the town to try to address some of their concerns and put the pole as far away from the homes as possible," she said.

Anderson said that after visiting Graff's home, Dominion officials realized that her property would not provide the access they needed and that her neighbor's property was better situated. Dominion gave the neighbor the option of selling the home or granting an easement. When the homeowner chose to sell, Dominion negotiated a price that took into account "the inconvenience that it would cause to the family because it was an unplanned sale," Anderson said.

Dominion has not decided on the design of the pole, but Anderson said that they are typically 120 feet high.

Wage Drive residents, whose street is tucked off Dry Mill Road near Loudoun County High School, said they're afraid the structure will ruin the appearance of their community. "You're not going to see our pretty homes. You're just going to see this big tower," Graff said.

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