Cell tower legislative update

After the initial hearing that involved feedback from both sides of the cell tower issue, Rep. Karla Drenner submitted her bill on Feb. 27, which is posted here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/82892268/HouseBillPrudentAvoidance-dekalb-county. Drenner received co-sponsorship of her bill from: Representatives Mike Jacobs, Tom Taylor, Judy Manning, Coach Williams and Scott Holcomb.

Drenner went into the hearing with 5 signatures and needed a total of 10 for her bill to move forward. She received an incredible 17 of 19 possible signatures from the DeKalb County delegation in support of it. We believe the next step is for it to be placed as an agenda item for the entire delegation to vote upon before it would then go to the Senate for a vote. Both sides must approved before it becomes law. There is a local and a state version in progress. Her bill also calls for an immediate moratorium on all cell tower construction at DeKalb County Schools while the legislation is being debated in order to buy the schools some time to determine if the results of her bill helps them with regard to their legal stance against the school board’s actions.

Drenner’s statements about the legislation not affecting current towers were preceded by her statements that she is not a judge nor an attorney, so she is not completely sure whether or not her bill would be able to support a case against the current leases, however she did not expect that the language about the law being applied retroactive would make it through to the final approved version. Therefore, it would not be likely that the law would be able to impact the contracts currently in place.

Important to note, however, is that two of the school property leases have not been signed, Lakeside High School and Narvie J. Harris Elementary School. Those schools may be able to gain protection if they are still unsigned by the time the bill actually becomes law (if that is what happens). In addition, T-mobile still has a couple of no-obligation out-clauses in the contract, one which would be available to them in June, 2012. If they determine that the legal costs and time to fight these leases in light of the pending legislation exceeds the benefit (esp. since they no longer have the AT&T money backing them) and may decide to back out of these leases completely. It has been their track record in other markets to simply drop their applications when they have been met with strenuous opposition.

The state bill may be met with opposition from the rural parts of Georgia where they are hurting financially and do not have a lot of cell towers already.

Locally for DeKalb, it looks very likely that the bill will pass. The school board has a lobbyist who only made a request / suggestion that the bill be regional and not local since nearby counties are doing the same thing as DeKalb and therefore should be held to the same standards going forward. The telecommunications lobbyist only mentioned that the bill might violate federal law and should be withdrawn. (Federal law states that local governments do have authority over the size and placement of towers, but they cannot deny them outright if there is a proven need, solely based on environmental factors.)

The counterpart to the Drenner bill is the new legislation introduced simultaneously in the Senate by Sen. Jason Carter the eldest grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. His bill, 498, can be found here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/83268690/Senate-bill-498-Close-zoning-loop. He introduced it on Feb. 28 and received co-sponsors from both parties. It is co-sponsored by Senators Fran Millar, Steve Hensen, Gloria Butler, Emanuel Jones and Curt Thompson.

Carter’s legislation deals more specifically with the perception by the school board that there is an exemption available to them by state law that allows them to build whatever they want without having to comply to local zoning laws or public notification. It has been made clear in the courts that the exemption does not apply when they are building something that is for a “for profit” entity and not for educational or public use, but Sen. Carter is making the law itself address this issue. His bill states specifically that any government entity that wishes to build something that is for non-governmental purposes would be required to comply with the same local zoning laws as everyone else. His bill is a state bill and clarifies what we believe is already true.

For more information, visit Get the Cell Out – Atlanta

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4 Responses to Cell tower legislative update

  1. Anom says:

    Hope this can be stopped!

  2. justwatch says:

    Who speaks for a school community? That is the challenge here. In at least one of the schools, I believe that, at the time, the current parent leadership was interested in the tower, because of their own challenges with cell service.

    At Lakeside, if many parents support it, what does that mean for those who don’t?

    To me, this is a zoning issue. Schools are zoned R100 and therefore, cell towers should not be allowed. Carter is on the money about use of school property and blanket exemption from regulation.

  3. Watching... says:

    This is a area of the law that I had to deal with years ago in the reverse direction when the International Community School first needed to add a large modular building in year 2 to it’s original campus which is a time sharing leasing of space from a church (Avondale Pattillo UMC to be specific). What we finally pieced together was that the church was on Residential zoned land and the church therefore had no right to add trailers without getting a zoning exemption. However, the PUBLIC education and ZONEing departments are both co-equal levels of government–which is the reason public schools may be sited on property of any zoning. It isn’t a matter of getting an “exemption”. It is a walk around. However, everything health and safety wise still applies as far as permitting etc. Schools aren’t “zoned” anything—Lakeside may happen to sit on land that was originally R100–but it could have been commercial or industrial zoning, doesn’t matter if the school board chooses to put a SCHOOL there.

    For ICS, this meant that, while the church could not place a trailer—as long as the trailers were placed by a PUBLIC school for it’s sole usage, we could do it. We had to get a letter from Stan Pritchett attesting that we were a public school–not a private one, and then the zoning folks had to get the advise of an attorney before we could proceed. BTW–the zoning rules in Dekalb at that time stated that for private schools you are required to have 5 acres plus another 5 for every 100 students==> we figured we would be required to have 20 acres had we not been able to use this exception.

    It is also my understanding that when ICS moves out of it’s present site, that modular building will become “non-compliant.” in terms of zoning. It could theoretically be left in place, but the Church would not be able to get a permit for any modifications for a use that is not consistent with the land’s underlying R-75 zoning.

    I hope that they will be careful in how they modify the law such that charter schools can still obtain the benefit that ICS did. Otherwise you really are looking at facilities being THE major financial impediment that makes opening a start-up charter near impossible –never mind whether the powers that be like us. –Marney Mayo

  4. Ella Smith says:

    I was the only parent at Lakeside who showed up opposed to having a cell tower at Lakeside or on any school property in DeKalb. The announcement was put out only a day or two before the meeting and there were big activities going on around the community. However, this was extremely important to me so I showed up and asked many questions as I am opposed to cell towers being on school property.

    This was a major issue several years ago and the same group of parents wanted this for the money. However the superintendent was in opposition and did not bring it to the school board.

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