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Decatur City Commission denies conditional use permit for 140-foot cell tower on Maediris Drive

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Decatur City Commission denies conditional use permit for 140-foot cell tower on Maediris Drive

Decatur City Hall. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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This story has been updated.

Decatur, GA — The Decatur City Commission, at its Nov. 27 regular meeting, denied a conditional use permit for a cell phone tower on Maediris Drive near the YMCA of Metro Atlanta.

The commission deferred the application in October, after the planning commission recommended denial of the conditional use permit. The city commission cited concerns about the extent of the cell phone coverage, the setback of the tower, and the impact on the neighborhood.

“I don’t think this is the appropriate place,” Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers said.

CitySwitch had proposed constructing a 150-foot telecommunications tower on CSX right-of-way that would be accessed by Maediris Drive. In an effort to respond to concerns raised during the planning commission meeting, CitySwitch proposed lowering the height of the tower from 150 feet with a 10-foot lighting rod to 140 feet with a six-foot lighting rod. The total height of the tower would be 146 feet.

The application from CitySwitch to build the tower would have been on land in the CSX railroad right of way and would involve a modification of setback limits from the property line and a modification to the landscape buffer requirements, according to the planning commission’s staff report.

“The site selection was based off of a dense area where the carrier, Dish, who offers cellular services, found that they had a gap in coverage,” said Ivy Cadle, the attorney representing CitySwitch.

CitySwitch had looked at several alternative sites nearby, including at the Publix on North Decatur Road. There is an existing tower at the Publix shopping center.

“Dish confirmed that, that ground lease has expired, so the power’s there and rent is being paid, but it’s what we call a hold over. In other words, there’s no legal right for that tower to continue on, so there’s uncertainty for Dish to locate its equipment there,” Cadle said.

Many residents have raised concerns about the setback and height of the tower. Cadle said the tower would be 144 feet away from the closest residence, but neighbors said the setback would be less. A representative from the YMCA also said the tower would be 50 feet from the YMCA’s property line.

Clint Elliott, group vice president of the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, said the space behind the YMCA, close to the proposed tower site, is programmable space for the YMCA.

“We have a lot of recreation that happens in those areas, especially on our property,” Elliott said. “When we look at the sake of human safety, in addition to some of those structures, I understand that’s important, but I think it’s something that we should really contemplate. Programmable space is so valuable to our community and to the folks we serve, specifically the youth, that utilize that space behind the YMCA.”

Cadle also discussed a fall zone letter from an engineer, which outlined that the tower could have sustained 107-mile-per-hour wind.

“The letter does say that this effectively results in a fall radius within the 50-foot by 60-foot compound because there are failure points in the pole at 50 and 100 feet off the ground that would cause it to more fold over than to fall like a tree in the forest,” Cadle said.

During the public hearing, several residents raised concerns about the aesthetics of the tower and the visibility of it, how close the tower would be to neighboring homes and the YMCA, the impact of radio waves on the health of individuals living nearby, the need for a sizable vegetative buffer zone around the tower, and the potential installation of a generator that would emit noise in the community.

Phillip McGinnis, a representative of the Westchester Hills Neighborhood Association, said the site is inadequate for a cell tower.

“The structural engineer letter does talk about the tower, however the planning commission had concerns about the connection at the base and the structural engineering really doesn’t address the attachment at the base,” McGinnis said.

He added that the neighborhood is sensitive to generators. CitySwitch was not planning to install a generator but was going to add a concrete plan should a generator be installed in the future. McGinnis said the location of a generator on the site would be on the edge of the site and close to residences.

McGinnis, and others, were also concerned about water retention on the site. He added that the tower would be highly visible in the neighborhood as the trees in the area don’t have leaves for about five months out of the year.

Having the tower in the middle of a neighborhood may not be the best solution, Mayor Patti Garrett said.

“I recognize that we’re going to have to have more equipment places for the sorts of electronics that we all use and enjoy,” Garrett said. “My biggest concern is when I look at this map of other sites considered, it really is in the middle of a single family neighborhood when there is all of this commercial area with parking lots.”

She added that there were other commercial site nearby that could be an option. Although Cadle said, CitySwitch had reached out to neighboring commercial areas and in many cases did not get a response from the property owners.

“My concern is that there appears to be locations that would be less impactful on the people who are sitting in this room right now,” Garrett said during the city commission meeting. “It also appears from the coverage map, we’re looking at really a pretty small part of Decatur benefitting and a pretty large outside the city of Decatur benefitting from this tower placement.”

In other business:

– The city commission approved an alcoholic beverage license for Guru Restaurant and Bar, a new restaurant opening in the Cortland Decatur East mixed-use project. It will be located in a retail space next to the vehicular courtyard. The establishment is seeking an alcoholic beverage license for beer and wine beverages, and spirituous liquor beverages for consumption on premises, Planning and Economic Development Director Angela Threadgill wrote in a memo.

– The city commission approved a change order in the amount of $15,510 and an increase in the contract amount to $186,690 with AECOM for a transportation study and traffic-calming design for a portion of North Decatur Road.

“AECOM’s scope for re-visioning North Decatur Road includes project management and oversight, a traffic study of existing conditions and future traffic estimates, community engagement, including open houses and workshops, development of alternative concepts and cost estimates, and the final design recommendation,” Assistant City Manager Cara Scharer said.

About one mile of the study area is in unincorporated DeKalb County. The city anticipates the concept phase to last about 14 months. The city and DeKalb County also plan to hold another public workshop in January to discuss the findings of the transportation study, community engagement process, and share the traffic-calming recommendations and proposed next steps.

– The city commission approved the phase one traffic-calming plan for Coventry Road between Scott Boulevard and city limits.

“Working to provide accessible residential streets that are safe, comfortable, and community-friendly while accommodating the needs of all users, the recommended phase one improvements propose the following improvements from the city limits to Scott Boulevard: lane narrowing, modification of one existing speed hump to a speed table, an additional raised crosswalk, realignment of the intersections at Chelsea Drive and Kathryn Avenue so they are perpendicular with Coventry Road, and on-street parking laid out in a chicane pattern, which is a lane shift or deflection technique to encourage drivers to slow down,” Scharer said.

A new sidewalk is also proposed on the north side of the street between the city limits and North Parkwood Road.

– The city commission also approved resolutions declaring the results of the city commission and school board elections. Commissioners Tony Powers, Lesa Mayer and George Dusenbury and School Board Member James Herndon were reelected. Tracey Anderson was also elected to the school board, and several homestead exemptions related to city and school taxes were approved.

Writer Anila Yoganathan contributed to this article.

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