City of Johns Creek tightening cell tower ordinance

GSM cellsite antenna array on tower Getty Images/iStockphoto

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – With the telecommunications industry pushing for more cell towers and the Federal Communications Commission on their side, cities must have ironclad ordinances to maintain any control at all.

That is why Johns Creek is tightening its cell tower ordinance to nail down as much as possible where and what kind of towers can be allowed.

At the April 9 meeting, the Johns Creek Planning Commission unanimously approved amendments to the city ordinance that mostly dealt with how use permits are drawn up. There are two types of permits companies can obtain – administrative permits and those that require public hearings.

Administrative permits will be tougher to obtain if the City Council approves the amendments at its meeting later this month.

Height, location, type of tower and most importantly, demonstration of need will be more stringently defined. And almost any deviation of these definitions will require a public hearing, where they may be denied.

“Telecom companies will be required to provide additional information for the necessity and justification for them,” said Assistant City Attorney Scott Hasty. “They will have to prove they need it and provide more detailed reasons. This way, we will get more information up front when they present their request for a permit. The ordinance requires applicants to provide information that is not usually forthcoming otherwise.”

The FCC requires that sufficient coverage must allow for telecom companies to do business. However, case law is a moving target on what can and cannot be used as reason for denial of a permit. That is why the ordinance must be tight as a drum.

“As the technology changes, the case law changes,” Hasty said. “We’ve changed factors for denial that case law allows us to do.”

So the types of towers that were once allowed in any zoning district can now be restricted.

“It is a balance between having equal [telecom service] versus local control of zoning. There is not a lot of guidance,” said Planning Director Mike Williams.

In the tightening of the ordinance, for example, height limitations will be measured from road level. Thus, companies could not put a tower on a hill next to the road and measure from the top of the hill, Williams said.

Also, permits will not be allowed for towers in the public right of way.

Certain explicit definitions of the terminology also tighten up the types of towers that can be allowed and how exactly they can be disguised on existing structures.

These are called Alternative Antenna Support Structures, which are designed to camouflage or conceal towers on existing structures as clock towers, campaniles, free-standing steeples, light structures or other structures. But they do not include manmade trees or monopines.

Their use is defined as Stealth Technology. That is the use of alternative antenna support structures that, in the opinion of the City Council, are compatible with the natural setting and surrounding structures.

The amendments also spell out historic structures recognized formally by institutions such as Georgia Historic Division of the Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Department of the Interior or a city Historic Commission.

Antennas will not be allowed to spoil a wide panoramic field of sight. This might include natural or manmade structures and activities. A scenic view may be defined as a view from a stationary point or one viewed as one travels along a roadway, waterway or path. A scenic view may be a faraway object such as a mountain or a nearby object.

The amendments also spell out the need to co-locate on existing towers wherever possible. Applicants will be required to show through defined reports the designed coverage area, a computer model of how the system should operate within a designed system.

With these and other amendments, the city plans to allow the coverage provided for under the law but still maintain a high visual standard within the city.

This article was published in the Johns Creek Herald April 18, 2013 edition

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