Cell phone tower update

From Jeff Rader, District 2 DeKalb County Commissioner

cell-towerOne of the most pervasive signs of our mobile communications society is the proliferation of cell phone towers across the landscape. In DeKalb, the mobile communications revolution occurred after the widespread development of the landscape, so the infill installation of these structures has been perceived as intrusive in many residential neighborhoods. One recent decision and one pending regulation are relevant and noteworthy.

The recent noteworthy decision is the dismissal of a suit against DeKalb County by T-Mobile, a cellular provider. T-Mobile had sued DeKalb seeking a building permit for structures on two DeKalb County School System (DCSS) properties in District 2: Lakeside High School and Margaret Harris Comprehensive School. T Mobile had entered into a contract with DCSS seeking to invoke DCSS’s exemption from zoning regulation to erect the towers in residential districts where they are otherwise prohibited. Encouraged by the DeKalb Board of Commissioners, the DeKalb County Administration declined to recognize the requested permits as exempt from zoning since the cell towers were not educational facilities. T-Mobile sued, but canceled their contract with DCSS after the Federal Courts ruled in favor of DeKalb. T-Mobile also paid DeKalb County court costs incurred in our defense.

The decision is important because it helps limit exemptions to zoning laws intended to protect neighborhoods from incompatible development. Governments (Federal, State, Local and Public Schools) retain this important prerogative, but it should only be exercised to directly advance their public mission, not simply to generate revenue.

The pending decision on the regulation of cell towers is in our new zoning ordinance, which will soon be considered by the Board of Commissioners. After considerable public input and a thorough investigation of relevant federal legislation, the current proposal would allow cellular antennas within or attached to nonresidential structures legally permitted in single-family neighborhoods. These would include houses of worship or other institutions that are legally permitted to be of sufficient height to make a cellular antenna attractive to a carrier. The new proposal would not allow the cell towers that were the object of the T-Mobile controversy.

The proposed policy turns on the inherent incompatibility of a free-standing antenna with a surrounding single family neighborhood, and not on the concerns that some citizens have about the radio waves generated by the antenna. This is important because federal communications regulations prohibit local regulation of cellular antennas based on radio wave concerns. We convened citizen stakeholders interested in this issue recently, who made suggestion on refining the policy for adoption. The new zoning ordinance can be found online at http://planningdekalb.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/finalDraftZoningCodeJan20151.pdf

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One Response to Cell phone tower update

  1. Thank you to DeKalb School Watch Two and every parent and concerned community member who helped keep this issue front and center over the past four years. We will have more information on our website on this topic and will continue to post information about the ongoing biological research on the issue of RF radiation and its possible connection to cancer and other medical concerns. Our website is http://www.GETtheCELLoutATL.org.

    We also encourage everyone to read over the new zoning code in DeKalb County or your city’s zoning code which may be updated to reflect the changes noted in Commissioner Radar’s letter posted above. The more you know about what is allowed and what is not allowed, the better prepared you will be in the event something like this ever happens to you. The new zoning ordinance can be found online at http://planningdekalb.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/finalDraftZoningCodeJan20151.pdf

    It is important to note that DeKalb’s long standing and well tested zoning code is what actually saved our schools in the end and held up in court. If you have a new city that you are considering supporting with your vote, you might want to ask up front about whether or not t hey are familiar with this issue and if they plan to adopt and implement the same codes and standards as what you have right now. If not, understand the changes and know that you could be taking a risk at starting from square one if the new zoning board is not familiar with everything that has taken place regarding our schools and the fight that ensued over zoning between T-mobile and DeKalb County.

    Congratulations especially to the residents of Briarcliff Heights, who endured the battle the longest and worked with the county to update the zoning code in a compromise that would be suitable for both the expansion of the technology,the protection of the homeowners’ rights and the safety of the children at the school. All of the schools should be commended for standing together against the establishment on this one, sharing information with each other and refusing to allow anyone to pit them against one another. They proved that we are stronger in DeKalb when we are able to work together on the side of the children.

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