Supreme Court deals Roswell a blow on cell tower denial

The U.S. Supreme Court this week handed the City of Roswell a defeat in its battle to deny a cell phone tower in a residential neighborhood.

The court ruled the city had failed to adequately justify its refusal to allow construction of a 108-foot cell tower. The Supreme Court remanded the case to a lower court for further consideration. It’s unclear whether Roswell will ultimately be forced to allow the tower or whether it will have to reconsider the issue.

In 2010 T-Mobile South asked to build the tower on 2.8 acres of vacant residential property. At a public hearing, several City Council members expressed concerns about the tower’s impact on the surrounding area, and they voted unanimously to deny the company’s application.

Two days later, Roswell formally notified T-Mobile of its decision in writing, without spelling out the specific reasons. The letter indicated minutes from the meeting would be available from the city clerk. The minutes were approved and published 26 days later – four days before the deadline for the company to seek a judicial review.

T-Mobile filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, claiming Roswell had violated a provision of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that requires local governments to state the reasons for denying such requests. Roswell argued its reasons were contained in the meeting minutes. But the district court ruled for the company.

An appeals court sided with Roswell. But on Wednesday the Supreme Court reversed that decision.

The court held that Roswell had given proper notice of its reasons by making its meeting minutes available. But it ruled the city should have provided those minutes when it notified T-Mobile of its decision. The 26-day delay gave T-Mobile only four days to seek a judicial review under federal law.

The issue was decided on a 6-3 vote, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor writing the opinion.