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Under threat of lawsuit, GA Catoosa County approves cell tower

After rejecting a proposal to build a 160-foot cell tower last year, the Catoosa County commission agreed Tuesday night to let a company build a pole instead.

The pole is supposed to help T-Mobile provide service in an area that is currently blacked out. It will be located off Daily Hill Road, about 2 miles south of Costco. County Attorney Clifton "Skip" Patty said people will only be able to see the pole from one direction. If they built the tower, he said, people would be able to see the structure from three sides.

The commission's decision came after the company trying to build the pole, GulfSouth Towers, filed a federal lawsuit against the county.

Rather than inviting neighbors to speak at the lectern as they do on most issues during commission meetings, commissioners Steve Henry and Jim Cutler met with residents in their seats, showing them sketches of the options they were considering. At one point, Cutler asked Patty to talk to the residents he was meeting with.

Meanwhile, Gulfsouth Towers Vice President of Operations Guy Smith chatted about the plans with Commissioners Jeff Long and Bobby Winters at their seats. Commissioner Ray Johnson sat in his own seat, watching the negotiations.

"That was a bit unorthodox," Henry said afterward.

The commissioners approved the settlement, 4-1. Commissioner Bobby Winters, who represents the area where the pole will go, was the only elected official to vote against the plan. He said he didn't want any pole or tower built there.

On Nov. 28, after eight residents spoke out against the request, the county planning commission voted against the company. The county commission upheld the decision on Dec. 19.

The tower violates a couple of conditions of the county code. First, it is taller than 100 feet. Second, it is to be built within 1,000 feet of a house. (The closest home to the proposed tower site is 803 feet.)

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Jan. 19, an attorney for the company argued the county's decision violated the Telecommunications Act of 1996. In particular, the lawyer wrote, the county's requirement that a tower can't be closer than 1,000 feet to a house is "excessive" and "unreasonable."

The company also argued there were no other good places in that part of the county to put a tower. As a result, T-Mobile would simply have to do without service there. In addition, the lawyer wrote that residents didn't provide evidence for why a tower would be bad.

"This citizens in opposition to GST's Applications presented only generalized complaints that amounted to nothing more than 'not in my backyard,'" attorney Scott Taylor wrote.

Other towers

The commissioners also approved a request to build a cellphone tower for Verizon Wireless on Warren Road, south of Battlefield Parkway. Patty said a house sits 780 feet from the tower, and another house is about 800 feet away.

Meanwhile, the commissioners rejected another request from Verizon Wireless to build a tower on the corner of Boynton Drive and Molton Lane. The tower would be within 133 feet of one apartment complex and within 333 feet of a second. A funeral home is also 150 feet away.

"It's really, really close," Patty said.

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