PTC defers decision on church cellphone tower

A proposal to rezone St. Paul Lutheran Church to allow for a new cellphone tower off Ga. Highway 74 North was tabled by the Peachtree City Planning Commission Monday night.

The proposal will sit on the shelf until after a Feb. 2 workshop on how the city will proceed in the future with requests for new cellphone towers. The city is hoping to work with multiple cellphone companies in hopes of limiting the number of new towers in the city as use of cell technology continues to increase.

Verizon Wireless wants to build the cell tower on the St. Paul property, located just off Hwy. 74 and Ardenlee Parkway in northern Peachtree City. The company has said it would have additional room on the tower for other cellular carriers to “colocate” equipment on the theory that other antennas for the area wouldn’t be necessary.

A Verizon representative said the tower is needed to provide better service for residents in the Kedron Village area.

“We have residents of Peachtree City calling us every day saying, ‘We have no cell service here,’” said Verizon attorney Jen Blackburn.

The rezoning of the property from general residential-4 and estate residential to open space-public would allow for the cell tower to be built if it meets certain criteria as a conditional use.

Several residents in the Ardenlee subdivision adjacent to the church opposed the rezoning at Monday’s meeting.

Bill Jones, president of the Ardenlee homeowners association, said he has heard concerns over the potential of the tower reducing property values and also concerns about its visibility.

“If it’s needed, it’s needed, but is this the best place for it? I’m not sure,” Jones said.

“We are happy to locate it where you guys want but we’re also trying to get our customers the cell service they need,” Blackburn said.

Bonnie Beerbower, who lives near the proposed cell tower site, said her grandson also lives nearby and she doesn’t want him near the tower due to health risks she came across while researching the issue. Beerbower said she has previously been approached to build a cell tower on her land but she has turned down the proposals despite lease fees that would range between $30,000 and $40,000.

Beerbower asked why the tower couldn’t be located on industrially-zoned land, and Blackburn replied that there is no such land close enough to provide the area with the necessary service.

Verizon has been working with the city on investigating the best place for a cell tower in the Kedron area for several years, said City Community Development Director David Rast. Blackburn noted that one ideal location would have been on the existing Fayette County water tower, but the county has a policy against allowing cellular equipment on its towers.

Resident Beth Pullias, who lives in the Kedron area, said she was concerned if the rezoning was approved that other churches would soon be allowed to erect cell towers. Pullias said she didn’t want to see cell towers built in residential neighborhoods.

Rast noted earlier in the meeting that cell providers have told the city that towers will be needed in residential areas to improve existing service. Currently the city’s towers are located along Ga. highways 74 and 54, he noted.

As for the St. Paul proposed cell tower, the church owns two adjacent parcels, one of which is currently zoned GR-4 which would allow for up to 29 residential homes to be developed there if the property was sold by the church. The other parcel is zoned estate residential and would have room for just one home under that zoning category.

The planning commission is only allowed to make a recommendation on rezoning matters as the city council has the final say on all rezoning requests. However, if a cell tower is proposed on land that would not need a rezoning, the issue would never reach the city council.

Each cell tower must be approved by the planning commission through its conceptual site plan and final site plan process, Rast said. Also, each cell tower must meet the regulations of the city’s telecommunications ordinance.

Rast noted that several years ago the city began initiating requests of churches to rezone their properties to open space. That initiative was undertaken to keep those properties from being developed for more intense uses should the churches ultimately leave the city and sell their properties, Rast said.

Many churches declined because their properties were rezoned for commercial or office use, both of which would be more valuable if ever sold in the future than if the land were zoned open space, Rast said. As a result, the city withdrew its suggestion for the rezonings.

But the concept is being brought forward again as a way to prevent future non-church development from occurring on church sites, Rast indicated. Under open space public the following uses are allowed:

• Undeveloped natural land

• Paved trails

• Playgrounds, picnic areas

• Cemeteries

• Utility services, telecommunications towers and churches, though all three must meet certain conditions including building setbacks.