Get citizens on board with tower plan now

For the third time the subject of placing a cell tower near a residential neighborhood has been brought before planning commission or council. First it was T-Mobile requesting possible location of four towers within our park spaces and in a neighborhood, and most recently it was Verizon’s request on behalf of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church to locate a tower on their property adjacent to Ardenlee’s residential development.

Both requests were tabled, for the most part to gather more information. The soonest we will see this come up again is in February after the city council/planning commission workshop to discuss the issue.

From the meetings so far on the subject of cell towers, it is clear: this is not only a cell tower issue; it is a zoning issue.

The city staff has been working to update our comprehensive plan for many years now, and as part of that update we have revised many zoning issues. This was being done to gain some control over what is built where and to establish some consistency in zoning.

One that still remains is the 700-plus open space zonings that need to be addressed. Our ordinances now allow for cell towers in both the Open Space Public (OS-P) and the Open Space Conservation (OS-C) as well as Agricultural Reserve, General Industrial, and Light Industrial zoned areas.

Verizon and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church want their property rezoned to OS-P which would allow a cell tower to be built on their property.

So this issue is really not just a cell tower issue. It is a zoning issue. The decision made today will affect future requests.

We have a lot of city owned OS property in our town. Some are parks, some are churches or cemeteries, and some are undeveloped land separating neighborhoods and town centers. How are we going to zone appropriately to allow cell towers in some areas, while excluding inappropriate areas?

We obviously do not want cell towers dotting our skyline just because our zoning cannot prevent it.

This is the challenge.

It is fitting that we are in the final two years of updating our comprehensive plan, because in our technology-driven world, telecommunication towers are a necessity. But we have not yet updated our comprehensive plan to accommodate them in a way that is up to PTC standards.

As I see it, this is a three-step process. Council and planning commission need to follow through to determine apart from zoning where cell towers are needed, the criteria for building a tower in our city, and where the community will accept them. Get the citizens on board. Then we can zone accordingly.

Obviously, due to having two requests in the last three months to build new towers, this process needs to be completed in a timely manner. I know that the study to determine appropriate locations for towers based on service levels is underway now.

I do hope the city next takes the steps to allow for citizen input and recommendations and incorporate them into a plan BEFORE any zoning decisions are made or towers approved.

It is much better to get the citizens involved and educated now. Show them that there is a long-range plan in place to deal with such requests that has taken their feedback into consideration during its development.

Doing this will also prove that this is a carefully considered issue that is not revenue-driven, but being done to better future cell phone service in our city in a way that is acceptable to its citizens.

Beth Pullias

Peachtree City, Ga.

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