ROSWELL, Ga. – When Roswell’s City Council denied a T-Mobile cell tower in April 2010, little did they know the case would eventually wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court agreed May 5 to hear arguments from T-Mobile that the city failed to give it proper notification under the law that a proposed tower was denied. The city argued it gave plenty of notification as required under the law in its council meeting minutes.
The court will decide whether a written denial with no reasons as to why is enough to satisfy the requirement that such a denial be given in writing.
Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, local governments are severely restricted in how they can deny the placement of a cell tower. Concepts such as aesthetics or property values matter less if the telecom company deems the tower necessary for adequate coverage. In recent years, cities have often struggled with approving towers in the face of strong resident opposition.
In early 2010, T-Mobile decided it needed a new tower in Roswell. It went through the planning and zoning process to build a 108-foot-tall tower on a 2.8-acre plot of vacant land on Lake Charles Drive. City staff approved the tower and passed it on to council for final approval on April 12. In a two-hour meeting, council heard both sides of the issue from both residents and T-Mobile before unanimously denying the tower.
Residents had mobilized to deny the tower, with the city claiming it had received more than 1,000 complaints against it.
T-Mobile contends the city made no effort to inform it about why the tower was denied.
The company sued the city seeking to overturn the denial. The Georgia North District Court sided with T-Mobile. The 11th Circuit Court reversed this decision, claiming the city met the legal requirements by providing the meeting minutes. This is a conclusion the court reached with a similar case involving the city of Milton.
In its rebuttal of the arguments, Roswell’s attorneys claim, if T-Mobile won, “it is the local governments who would be harmed, as they would be forced to allow cellular towers in the heart of their residential communities based upon a mere technicality, without regard for the merits of their decisions.”
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in its next term, which begins in October.