Newly proposed cell tower ordinance gives power to the people

Recently the Peachtree City Planning Commission recommended the approval of a newly revised cell tower ordinance with the goal of maximizing the level of city control over any future proposed cell towers. After attending all of the meetings on the subject, I salute the effort that city staff and planning commission went through to revise our current ordinance and believe they have accomplished this goal. If anyone takes the time to actually READ the proposed ordinance they will hopefully see just that.

In John Munford’s recent article titled “New PTC tower ordinance criticized,” the reader was left with the impression that if council passes this new ordinance the city has given its OK to allow cell towers in our parks and recreation areas. This is simply NOT TRUE.

To help clarify, if a cell phone company comes to the city with an application for a new tower they must apply for a “conditional use permit” according to the proposed ordinance. Part of this permit application is a “copy of lease or letter of authorization from property owner evidencing applicant’s authority to pursue application.”(Revised Cell Tower Ordinance Draft Sec 18-381c)

In other words, if a cell tower company wants to locate a tower in our parks (city owned property), and they even meet all of the other criteria for doing so (minimum buffers, fence requirements, evidence of NEED, etc.) they will not receive a permit to build UNLESS the city council gives them the required letter of authorization. Unless the city does this, there will be no towers in our parks.

Now one may question, why not just eliminate parks and recreation areas from the ordinance all together? Why even give council the opportunity to approve such a tower? As the ordinance is proposed, all that the city needs is a majority on council that doesn’t care about our parks, or the wishes of our residents, and we will have a tower in Bluesmoke, or Braelinn. Why take that risk?

Agreed, in a perfect world, it would be more advantageous to have an ordinance that eliminated parks and rec areas from any and all potential for cell towers. However, we live in a world that must consider what is legal and what is challengeable, versus what is defendable. We cannot just say, “We don’t want a tower there,” and expect the cell tower company to go away quietly.

For lack of a better phrase, “telecommunication providers have rights,” as ridiculous as that may sound. (Telecommunication Act, 1996) We must have substantial documentation on the books to defend any decision we hand down.

Early in this process, the cell tower companies informed us that we needed an ordinance on paper that was clear, and based on a consistent, verifiable protocol for building new towers (our substantial documentation). We cannot eliminate some green space in town (our parks) and use different criteria to include other areas that we might prefer for tower location. That will never hold up if challenged.

As proposed, we have maximized the city’s local control while still providing a procedure that cell phone companies can follow if they want to locate in PTC.

Ultimately, on a case by case basis, our city council decides whether to allow a tower in our park — or more specifically, the people decide.

This is how it should be. When you think about it, our quality of life is vulnerable at any given time if we do not stay involved and hold our city officials accountable for our wishes as citizens.

Our current council, for example, can decide to sell Kedron Aquatic Center and rezone to allow someone to build a Sam’s Club, allow our Baseball Soccer Complex to be eliminated in lieu of an expansion of Falcon Field, or regulate the type of golf cart allowed on the paths for the first time in over 50 years. Nothing we have in this town is carved in stone, or should be taken for granted.

This ordinance is no different. The only control we have as citizens is at the polls, and then after the elections with our VOICE.

The proposed cell tower ordinance makes it clear that we require certain criteria to be met before allowing a new tower in the city.

For me, the most important criteria included are demonstrated NEED, the fact that the landowner must provide written authorization to allow the tower to be built, and that there is adequate space for buffering between residences, streets and buildings. These three things alone actually allow us a great deal of control over our cell tower fate.

But let us not delude ourselves. There are no guarantees. Ordinances are not written guarantees. They are always subject to revision and the whim of those in power.

So, stay informed and hold your elected officials accountable.

Be collectively diligent and the power is ours.

Beth Pullias

Peachtree City, Ga.

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