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New PTC tower ordinance criticized

Peachtree City’s new celltower ordinance, which will allow new towers to be built in some parks and recreation areas with approval of the City Council, resulted in the planning commission getting an earful Monday night.

Resident Kevin Cheney, who lives near Blue Smoke Park, complained that the city should be protecting its parks and recreation areas from celltowers instead of allowing them to be built.

“Is there anything in there that says the quality of life in Peachtree City has to be taken into account?” Cheney asked.

Planning Commission Chairman Patrick Staples replied that the commission always “puts Peachtree City first” and he didn’t appreciate the suggestion that it didn’t.

“From day one this has been a major concern for our parks and recreation areas,” Cheney replied. “People have come to express their opinion and that has been the number one thing addressed up here.”

Cheney also noted that the City Council had pledged not to allow new celltowers in city recreation centers and parks.

Resident Mary Giles, who lives near the Braelinn recreation area off Log House Road, said she was concerned about access issues for new celltowers on city parks and recreation areas.

“I want to see protection for our multi-use path system. I want to see protection for our parks,” Giles said.

Despite the protest of Cheney, and from fellow resident Mary Giles, the commission unanimously voted to recommend approval of the ordinance to the City Council.

The ordinance included some changes based on input from cellphone companies, including a four-hour period instead of an eight-hour period in which a balloon test must be conducted. Such tests involve raising a balloon to the height of the proposed tower in part so citizens can get a visual idea of how the tower will fit in with its surroundings.

Balloon tests must be done on a weekend day and also must be advertised in advance with a notice published in the city’s legal organ, the ordinance requires.

The ordinance requires that any celltower support structure be 200 feet from any adjoining residential property line, 200 feet from any public right of way and 50 feet from any abutting property not zoned for residential use.

Also, the celltower and support structures must be 250 feet away from any property line abutting a school or place of worship.

The city also will be limiting tower height to a maximum of 180 feet.

The ordinance will allow new celltowers to be placed on lots zoned light industrial, general industrial and open space-public. Commissioner Lynda Wojcik suggested the city look at possibly allowing new celltowers on land zoned general commercial and office institutional, but that will require further study by staff and will be pushed back to a later date.

Other changes made at the request of the cellphone industry included:

• The companies will have to notify property owners within a 250-foot radius via letter when a new celltower site is proposed. The previous radius was 1,000 feet.

• A requirement that each tower have at least two wireless carriers for a new celltower was stricken. Community Development Director David Rast explained that instead new towers will be required to have space for several carriers to use them simultaneously.

• Language allowing the city or Fayette County to have the ability to locate emergency communications equipment on a new celltower at no cost was removed. Rast said cellphone companies questioned the legality of the clause though they would be willing to work with the city to allow such equipment.

The ordinance is being revamped in part because several cellphone companies have said they need new towers in several residential areas to improve service as people are relying on their phones for not just voice calls but also email and Internet access.

Rast noted that of the previous sites identified for potential celltowers, the new ordinance would not eliminate any of those sites.

County eyes relaxing tower distance rules

Meanwhile, with cellphone companies needing to bring access closer to county residential areas, Fayette County may soon relax its zoning rules to accommodate the ever-growing population of those talking, emailing and surfing the web on their phones.

Currently the county requires a two-mile separation between towers. County zoning staff is recommending the distance be shrunk to 1.5 miles.

Also, a requirement for new towers to be 1,000 feet away from the nearest residence will be reduced to a figure three times the height of the celltower.

“That means the taller the tower, the greater the setback,” Community Development Director Pete Frisina told the Fayette County Commission at its workshop meeting Aug. 4.

If approved, the county also would be allowing celltowers in the R-70 zoning district to accommodate an area in the north central portion of the county where cellphone companies have indicated a lack of service, according to a staff memo on the changes.

The new rules would allow new celltowers to be erected on the same lot as a private school or day care center, but it must be set back from all facilities for a distance equal to the height of the tower.

The county’s new rules also address “alternative” tower structures which are used to disguise towers such as clock towers, bell towers, flag poles, internal antenna “slick stick” towers and artificial pine trees.

Such towers would go through a design review and approval process before the planning commission to make sure the structure type is appropriate for the surrounding area and “set requirements for placement, equipment structures, fencing and landscaping,” the memo said.

Cellular companies will have an incentive to use alternative structures as they will be allowed as conditional uses for:

• A church or other place of worship;

• Developed residential recreational/amenity areas;

• Private school; and

• Telephone, electric, or gas substation or other public utility facilities.

Also the county will be adopting a requirement for balloon tests in which a balloon is raised to the proposed tower’s height so photographs can be taken to assist in creating a simulated photo of how the structure will look in comparison to its surroundings after construction is complete.

Frisina said the balloon test requirement was actually a request from representatives of the telecommunications industry.

“It gives you a better feel for the impact it’s going to have on the surrounding area,” Frisina said.

The new ordinance also clarifies that any application to reduce or waive any of the celltower requirements be brought before the full board of commissioners in a public hearing. Currently such matters are considered by the county’s zoning board.

Also, the new ordinance will remove an existing requirement for the county to follow its regulations for celltowers when one is placed on county-owned property.

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<cite><strong>Don Haddix
Peachtree City Mayor</strong></cite>

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