Roswell approves Fouts radio tower

Council split, residents angry

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ROSWELL, Ga. – Roswell’s City Council voted Sept. 11 in a 4-3 decision to approve a new radio tower on Fouts Road, voting over resident opposition.

The meeting was filled with homeowners from the nearby Twelvestones neighborhood, across the street from the site, who pleaded with the council to at least delay a vote on the matter.

Mayor Jere Wood exercised his rarely used power to break a tie among the councilmembers, siding with the proponents.

“We need a tower somewhere near Fouts Road,” Wood said. “It’s not going to be any prettier across the road.”

In a concession to the residents, the tower was moved to the back of the property and lowered by 50 feet to a maximum height of 350 feet.

Councilmembers Becky Wynn, Rich Dippolito and Nancy Diamond voted for the tower. Members Jerry Orlans, Betty Price and Kent Igleheart opposed it. Wood broke the tie.

Igleheart, whose motion to defer the decision was voted down on the same lines, said he was concerned about the site.

“I have a lot of questions now with the North Fulton Regional Radio System Authority (NFRRSA),” Igleheart said. “After all the things I’ve learned in the last month, I question some of this. I have too many concerns.”

He noted new information presented at the meeting from representatives of Commdex, the project manager of implementing the system.

In particular, alternate options for tower locations as well as heights were suggested by both Commdex and Roswell Police Chief Rusty Grant. The sites were discounted by both for a variety of reasons, including poor connection with the other towers in the system, cost and coverage of the region. The lower the tower heights, the more towers would be needed, they reported, and they possibly could use more expensive fiber optic cables to communicate instead of microwaves.

Either way, a tower needed to go somewhere near Fouts Road, they said.

Plans for the NFRRSA were set in motion last year to form a North Fulton emergency communication system to be used by police and firefighters. It would replace the county’s aging and obsolete system. According to Grant, the system in place now has failed 11 times in the past year and is failing at an increasing rate. When it fails, emergency personnel cannot radio each other. One instance of this happening was during a SWAT operation as the team raided a home. With no radio, members had to use their cellphones.

The county was allegedly hesitant to reveal plans to improve the system, so the cities of North Fulton – Roswell, Sandy Springs, Alpharetta and Milton – decided to go it alone.

Johns Creek, initially a partner, pulled out at the least minute.

Concerns arose almost immediately that the new system would at best duplicate and at worse interfere with Fulton’s new one and come at a cost that was not worth it.

The cities and the county are working together to resolve the issues, but nothing has been decided yet.

Roswell initially heard the arguments for the Fouts Road site at their Aug. 12 meeting, however it and a tower site at Cox Road were deferred. Consideration of the Cox Road site is still deferred until an unknown date.

Twelvestones residents rejected arguments that the best site was across from their neighborhood.

“This is a gigantic eyesore,” said resident Joyce Cross. “We know a tower must be near us, but why not in a commercial area?”

The area around Centennial High School had several possible sites, said Chuck Bethea, representative of Commdex. However, one site was sold to be turned into houses and the owner of another site was not interested in allowing its use. A third site, near the self-storage company on Eves Road, might have worked but required so much work and was so tight, it was not ideal.

That left Fouts.

In her motion to approve the site, Wynn noted the importance of the radio system.

“Every day we delay, our first responders are in danger,” she said. “This is for the safety of everyone in Roswell and North Fulton County. This is not an easy decision … [but] I don’t know what else there is to talk about.”

Diamond agreed.

“This is not something we just rushed into,” she said, noting the system has been coming together for much of the year.