County Commissioners Seek to Kill School Cell Towers

The North Druid Hills Briarcliff Patch is reporting that County Commissioners Seek to Kill School Cell Towers

The board asked the county Thursday to deny permits to T-Mobile, which, under an agreement with the school system, plans to build nine cell phone towers on school properties countywide, including Briarlake Elementary and Lakeside High schools.

The DeKalb County Board of Education’s plans to build cell phone towers at nine schools countywide, including Briarlake Elementary and Lakeside High, violates a county ordinance, and building permits for those projects should be denied, county commissioners said Thursday.

In a letter to county CEO Burrell Ellis, signed by all seven commissioners, the board said the school system and T-Mobile are illegally trying to circumvent county zoning regulations through a state law that says government property is exempt from local zoning ordiances if the property is being used for a governmental purpose. The letter represents the first public pushback from county officials on an issue that has enflamed some vocal residents of communities across the county where the towers have been approved.

Click here to read more.

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13 Responses to County Commissioners Seek to Kill School Cell Towers

  1. momfromhe11 says:

    Whoo-Hooo! It’s a start.

  2. Dekalb Taxpayer says:

    You may want to contact your Commissioner on the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners and say THANK YOU! for your efforts to keep cell phone towers out of our schoolyards.

    Briarlake will lose instructional space in the form of the area where they take their physical education classes OR their outdoor classroom used for their environmental studies will be torn down to be replaced with the 60 ft. X 60 Ft., 154 ft. tall cell tower. Other schools will lose instructional space that is needed presently or may be needed in the future. As we saw when schools were closed and redistricted and new schools were being proposed, needs for instructional space change over time so losing instructional space for the next 30 years is not prudent educationally or financially.

    Additionally, property values are ALWAYS negatively impacted when a cell tower looms over the school if prospective buyers of your property have school age children, a scenario that is the norm in most suburban counties like DeKalb. Does anyone think parents are eager to enroll their children in a school that has a cell tower within a few feet of the school?

    This came from the Save our Schoolyard group in an email:

    “Legislative – even though none of our proposed bills made it through the assembly, we gained a lot of press and momentum. We gained much needed support from our legislators …. Your attendance, phone calls, and e-mails WERE effective. You have made a difference.

    “Signs – The police have been taking our signs. To prevent this, please move your signs back 10 feet from the road. Someone has complained that we are advertising a business. Even though the signs are not advertising a business, in order to not have them confiscated, please move your sign at least 10 feet back from the edge of the road and into your yard.

    “BOC – Very good news here. I just received a letter from the members of the BOC addressed to the CEO advising the CEO to instruct the office of Planning and Sustainability to adhere to local zoning laws regarding cell towers. They recommend that the local zoning code be upheld for school property. The ball is still in CEO Burrell Ellis’s court. Please keep up the pressure on him.

    “BOC meeting attendance – if you have not already, please take a morning and attend and speak at one of the twice monthly BOC meetings. They are held beginning at 9:00 AM on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month. This is an important opportunity for you as a citizen in DeKalb County to participate in the county’s operation. These meetings have been extremely education and experiential for all who have taken the time.

    “Permitting – we are in constant contact with the office of Planning and Sustainability (county office that issues permits) watching for a permit to be applied for. We are in a holding pattern until this happens. Once it does, we need to show up en masse to the Zoning Appeal hearing. This will be during the day. I’ll let you know when this is scheduled.”

    According to my calculations, the next Board of Commissioners meeting is a week from this Tuesday on April 10th at 9:00 am at Maloof Auditorium at 1300 Commerce Drive.

    Here is who to contact at the Board of Education:

    Here is who to contact at the Board of Commissioners:

    Burrell Elllis- DeKalb CEO

  3. bettyandveronica1 says:

    “The board asked the county Thursday to deny permits to T-Mobile,…”. What board is this? The zoning board?

  4. The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners

  5. From “Say No to Cell Towers”:

    DeKalb County, GA, Board of Commissioners give “thumbs down” to cell towers at school, according to a report published recently: by reporter Jennifer Parker.

    The DeKalb County Commissioners have finally responded after months of inquiry from across the county from concerned residents and parents. They penned a single letter, dated March 27 and signed by all 7 comissioners. It was sent to CEO Burrell Ellis’s attention and acknowledged by school board spokesman Walter Woods. The important points in the letter:

    * DeKalb County Board of Commissioners are against the placement of cell towers on school grounds!
    * T-mobile does not qualify for exemption from zoning.
    * DeKalb County should not ignore its own regulations or give up local control.
    * They have listened to their constituents and have decided to take a more active approach to the conflict.
    * These towers would not normally be approved as they are not consistent with the zoning regulations, already established for cell towers, designed to protect the citizens and their property values.
    * They urge CEO Burrell Ellis to deny any requests for Special Administrative Permit as case law from the Supreme Court of Georgia does not support it.

    This level of consensus from all parts of the county is rare in Georgia, and even more so in DeKalb County. It comes on the heels of a nearly unamimous show of support for a local ban of cell towers on school grounds, with 17 of 19 from the DeKalb delegation signing onto the House Bill authored by Karla Drenner (D – Avondale Estates). The bill did not make it through its committee prior to crossover day and was therefore “killed,” but it still sent a powerful message that the will of the people was going to prevail in one way or another. Drenner’s current referendum seeks the placement of the issue on the November ballot so communities can finally be heard.

    Another bill, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Jason Carter (D), met a similar fate, but sought to close any perceived loopholes in the zoning laws that might be giving the school board an opportunity to avoid using proper channels. It alerted the commissioners that they needed to take a more active role in the process. We will just have to wait and see what impact the letter sent to the CEO might have on the final decision. For now, T-mobile has not submitted any applications. Citizens can still influence the decision by reaching out to the CEO’s office or appealing the applications once they are filed.

    To help stop T-mobile from placing dangerous cell towers on school grounds in DeKalb County, please take a moment to send a letter or email to the CEO Burrell Ellis (contact details below). He is familiar with the dispute as his office has been contacted by a number of residents since the beginning of this process, but it will help for him to hear some simple statements of support for following the advice of the county commissioners.

    You may voice your concern directly to:
    Mr. W. Burrell Ellis, Jr.
    Chief Executive Officer
    DeKalb County Government
    330 W. Ponce de Leon Avenue, 6th Floor
    Decatur, GA 30030


    Phone Numbers:
    404-371-2881 Executive Office
    404-371-2521 Neighborhood Empowerment
    404-371-6301 Scheduling Line

    Copy (Optional) to: For extra assurance your letter of support reaches the right people, you may wish to send a copy to:
    The Director of Public Works
    The Director (or Interim Director) of Planning & Sustainability
    The Chief of Staff for the Office of Community Relations.

    The names of these individuals are difficult to find and change frequently, so simply using the titles and sending the “copy:” to the same address as the CEO’s address below is recommended for now until we learn more about the individuals who may hold these positions currently.

    Additional Copy (Optional) to:
    You may also wish to copy: your local Board of Commissioners Representative (or all of them) just to inform him/her that you are taking the next step to ensure the CEO knows the letter they penned is also backed by the wishes of the people of DeKalb County. Contact details can be found here:

    To have your letter reprinted on the Get the Cell Out ATL website, forward a copy of it and/or your reply to We will not publish your name to ensure your privacy.

    Sign petition:
    The countywide protest can also be supported by just adding your signature to the petiton at:

    For more information:
    For more suggestions and tips for fighting the towers and learning the truth, visit Get the Cell Out – Atlanta,

  6. A point of opinion: The Briarlake neighborhood especially should be happy about this. Of all the schools affected, the idea of placing a cell tower at Briarlake was the worst. Imagine squeezing a cell tower of this size in a very congested, tight neighborhood like Briarlake. To any side of the tower, there would be homes, the school or a busy road within a few hundred feet. If anything were to happen that would make the tower collapse (as a fire did recently in Gwinnett), there is no way that it could avoid serious damage or injury. Worse, the Briarlake property has no land to spare. The only options were to give up playground space or some of the outdoor classroom. It would be literally a sacrifice to build this tower. Our opinion is that neighbors of Paul Womack, School Board Rep for District 4, who ramrodded this through the board should be appalled and ashamed to the point of looking high and low to find a viable candidate to run against him in this summer’s election. Surely there is a level-headed community member who can serve on the board representing district 4 who cares about children, education and neighborhoods. Get going — time is short!

  7. Ned says:

    You could say all the same things about the proposed tower at Jolly (and probably other schools): homes, school, and busy street nearby; congested, tight neighborhood; loss of playground space. Briarlake is not unique.

  8. Very true Ned. Same for Smoke Rise and Margaret Harris. Medlock was also a very bad place for a cell tower. But that one was removed from the list. Heck, they’re all bad. So many of DeKalb’s schools are tucked into neighborhoods due to the decades-long desire of residents to offer a cozy, walk to school hometown atmosphere. Briarlake appears to be the most congested of all. And oddly, it’s a stone’s throw from Womack’s house. Fernbank would be bad too, however, they were never on the list.

    Bottom line: Elect better board reps. Paul Womack has brought nothing but bad ideas to the school system since his election. The voters in District 4 need to find a new board of education rep.

  9. Dekalb Taxpayer says:

    if you want to call and ask for support against the cell towers that do not meet DeKalb County zoning ordinances, here are the telephone numbers for:
    1. DeKalb County Director of Public Works
    Director’s Office – (404) 371-4778

    2. The Director (or Interim Director) of Planning & Sustainability
    Director’s Office – 404-371-2155

    Here is the online DeKalb County Government Online Customer Complaint page. One of the categories is zoning and rezoning.

  10. Dekalb Taxpayer says:

    Yes. I looked at Jolly and it appears to be a small campus which would lose most of its green space (and also expansion ability). The proposed cell tower would be right next to the building and just across the street from quite a few homes. Look at Narvie J. Harris as another example of setting the tower virtually on top of the school.

    Once space is gone for these schools (and others – T-Mobile and the DeKalb County Board of Education will not stop with these schools), it will remain gone for 30 years. A school’s expansion plans based on instructional needs and demographic changes will have to try to work around an enormous (60 ft. x 60 ft. with 20 ft. or more access easements) cell tower that the Central Office gets $1,400 a month for, the school and community get nothing and T-Mobile gets millions in revenue.

    Go look at the map to see that Ned is right. These cell towers do not belong on these school campuses.

  11. bettyandveronica1 says:

    Interesting, did anyone look at the cell phone tower placement near Lakeside? Not the one planned for the school but up the street at the intersection of Briarcliff and Shallowford. Is this on the Church property, the nature park or in the big church (Shallowford Pres) property. Looks like to me, just looking at the map, it’s in the nature park the neighborhood is desperately trying to establish and maintain.

    As far as lakeside is concerned, with all the property surrounding it, why put this eyesore right on the intersection. Just building that thing there will clog up the road or school parking lot for some time. Why not put it in the middle of the swamp, that’s where all the cell phones drop anyway..

  12. C.L. Miller says:

    Not sure why anyone would debate why one school is “worse” as far as location than another, but perhaps from an eyesore or danger standpoint, every single school has taxpaying citizens who live nearby and have been wronged by this decision. And there are plenty more who do not know. If Get the Cell Out – Atlanta did not form in order to warn everyone about what had taken place and what to expect, every school on the list would have very likely been blindsided – learning about the tower only when they wake up early in the a.m. to the sound of construction, walking to the tower site to ask what is being built and learning about the new environmental hazard the school system has approved and railroaded through the zoning process without a second thought about local ordiances or zoning laws. And, the new anti-picketing law in Ga. was designed to make it a felony if those people here were to do any of the typical things that people in this same exact situation do – stand in front of the entrance to the job site to try to stop the construction workers from getting through while they desparately send other neighbors home to call police or attorneys or get in touch with someone at the school to find out what is going on. These people would be fined $1,000 a day for exercising their right to protest in their own neighborhood, a right guaranteed by the U.S. constitution. As for Briarlake, they are making a big mistake by letting the PTA run their opposition group. All the other PTAs have remained neutral, practically silent, on an issue that one would consider pretty important if your organization is the “voice of the community.”

    The advice provided about the No Tower Briarlake signs is not an innocent warning. With Womack in the neighborhood, those signs, when placed 10′ away from the curb and into one’s own yard, will constitute a formal “picket” and every individual will be fined $1,000, maybe more if they have not submitted a request for a sign permit and have it affixed to the back of the sign. The organizers of the protest, protected under their “LLC,” will have only 15 days to file any legal action from the date the application is submitted. And they must be represented by an attorney because they are considered a “formal” group. An individual can appeal an application up to 30 days from the date it is submitted.

    The No Tower Briarlake organizers can incur a $10,000 per day fine for any signs considered picketing near Womack’ home or on public grouds or if any attempts are made to block any entrances to the property. That is ironically about the cost of a decent environmental attorney these days for this issue, all of which can be refunded at the end of the court proceedings, regardless of outcome, because it is guaranteed as a right under the FCC Telecommunications Act of 1996. The Act attempts to deal with all “obstacles to smooth entry” into an area, so they give this incentive to encourage anyone who wants to bring legal action to do so, but within the relatively short timeframe.

    Those signs, and the actions the organizers of the LLC take if there is any sign of construction on or around the middle of July as we have speculated will be the start date, will totally deplete any funds that have been accumulated by the group into their misc. and legal fees collection. The residents will have sunk money into that cause already, not to mention the donations they have reportedly been giving to the Briarlake Foundation which has stated, ironically, that it is raising money to put an “I-pad in every child’s hands.” Those I-pads will be all the justification that T-mobile will need to show that the new 4G technology tower really was needed for educational purposes all along – and then it will be exempt from zoning regulation. The county citizens need to work together rather than listening to different perspectives that will lead to different results.

    No Tower Briarlake, LLC, in its text provided above, is still encouraging people to contact the school board members with their complaints? Why? Perhaps so they can know exactly who is complaining and why so they can “take care of it” the way they normally do? And they want you to keep bugging the county commissioners? Why? They have done exactly what we needed them to do. They confirmed the towers are not in compliance with the zoning codes and have placed it into the hands of the CEO. We recommend emails or written letters are sent that do NOT focus solely on one school’s story about why a cell tower would be particularly bad for them. This is not the time to be asking for a special exception… this is a time for unity.

    To compare one’s school to another when you consider the fact that the biggest concern at the heart of this matter is the fear that long-term exposure to RF radiation may cause cancer and children are the most vulnerable, then unborn children, the elderly, then those with compromised mmune systems, then women and finally men. Everyone exposed to the unknown effects of being near a cell tower for many hours a day is taking part in the largest human experient in the history of mankind. Think what you want, but this is not an issue that we can debate – the science of this issue must work itself out and will take time – probably 15 to 30 years, about the length of the contracts. To subject any human being to this type of research, but especially to do this to children, against their will and without the consent or input of their parents will be a tragedy we hope our county is strong enough and wise enough to avoid.

    Please, don’t let your school board do what it always does to all of you – don’t let them divide you into bickering little factions where you start to blame each other and then find ways to ask for favors behind each others backs. That is the grease of politics, but we must leave that for the politicians and the lobbyists. We must be loyal to the humanity inside of all of us that says, “I wouldn’t want this in my yard. Why would I be okay with it in anyone’s yard? There must be a better way – tell T-mobile to take their money back to the drawing board because we do not want to impose this great of a risk on any human being and we do not wish to punish these 9 schools, their communities or anyone else with an eyesore and a burden that they should be legally protected from. THIS ISSUE can help DeKalb bring new homebuyers BACK to our county. So what if they have done this in Fulton and Cobb? Good for them. That will only make DeKalb more attractive and improve ALL of our home values even more. And, the entire country will be learning from us about how to be good neighbors, good citizens and good parents.

    Please write to the CEO to back up the fact that we expect him to follow the advice of the county commissioners since they are well trained and experienced in these matters and are only asking that the towers follow guidelines already in place. AND, very important to EMAIL OR WRITE to the DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC WORKS as we have determined he is most likely to be the person who would sign a Special Administrative Permit. EMAIL OR WRITE to the Zoning Board of Appeals as they would sign a Special Exception Permit and EMAIL OR WRITE the Director of Planning & Sustainability as he would approve a Special Land Use Permit (which would then go to the commissioners for sign-off).

    Thank you for reading this far into this comment. This issue is important. Please tell everyone you know about it so that we can keep it in the forefront of everyone’s minds when they go to the ballot boxes and with any luck they will understand the importance of voting responsibly this year.

    A single cell tower at a single schools sets a dangerous precedent. The money will go for a slush fund for prinicpals and top administrators. It will not do any good for any child or any school. Look what it has done already to the credibility of the PTA. Womack knows that Lakeside will not get a tower. They do not even have a signed lease right now. He tried to do this same thing in the late 1990s (from what we have been told from several sources) and the community stopped it. Lakeside doesn’t care about the towers – they need the money to finish their construction because SPLOST III funds ran out. This is where the money will go and the big winners will be AT&T because they will likely be the owners of T-mobile’s towers and making tons in the subleasing to other providers alone and the avoidance of property taxes. This was a bad deal from the beginning and we should not let it rub off on us – rise above it. Do the right thing for the COUNTY, not just your school. Do the right thing for all the children. If the roles were reversed, I bet the children would choose to do the right thing for you.

  13. Miss Management says:

    I predict the CEO will say, “The School Board Can Police Itself”.

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