The Stonecrest City Council is moving to enact a moratorium on cell towers after hearing from angry residents about an existing tower that may violate city code.
A Monday night meeting was packed with residents, several of whom held yellow signs with messages like “Do not cell out”and “Remove cell phone tower.”
The councilors voted to direct the city attorney to draft a 60-day moratorium on the construction of cell towers while the city re-examines the tower built in January off Evans Mill Road.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Friday that records suggest the tower may have been improperly constructed on land zoned for commercial use for a day care.
The moratorium would not go into effect until the declaration is put in writing, City Attorney Winston Denmark pointed out following the decision late Monday. The City Council would have to vote at its next meeting to approve the details of the written moratorium.
The move will give the city time to “flesh out details and legalities” about the cell tower on Evans Mill Road and the process for building others, Councilmember Diane Adoma said.
“I’m asking that we simply take some action, which is the right thing to do,” said Adoma, who represents the district where the tower sits.
Many of the residents were fierce in their opposition to the cell tower and the lack of action from the city on it.
“What angers me more than anything is we feel like we’re walking this walk alone,” resident Lynn Goodwin told the mayor and City Council. “We wanted more from the city… We deserve more.”
After about 10 residents spoke out during the meeting against the tower, Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary said he intends to support the moratorium. Lary later brought up the motion in support of the moratorium.
The Evans Mill Road tower was constructed in mid-January in a residential area, and has faced strong objections from residents who want to see the tower’s permit revoked.
Back in 1976, a man successfully applied to change the 16.3-acre tract of land from residential to commercial zoning in order to build a daycare called Raggedy Ann and Andy Child Care Centers, according to digital zoning maps and DeKalb County records.
The current land owner, Florida-based company Vertical Bridge, constructed the 199-foot tower in mid-January. It is nearly unavoidable above the spacious, suburban neighborhood, which is majority-black homeowners.
“It’s very clear that this tower was erected illegally; it’s very clear that the applicant did not disclose this information,” Phillip Kelly told the Council. “I just can’t believe that we haven’t pulled the permit on this.”
Denmark said he expects to complete a preliminary report Wednesday on how the tower was approved and whether anything was done improperly.
“We’re continuing to look into that issue, it’s a very complicated and document-intense kind of review,” Denmark said.
Mayor Lary acknowledged that the tower could improve cell reception and said there is currently poor service in the area.
He also said the city’s zoning and planning officials are generally “competent and thoughtful with how they are able to handle their business,” but stressed his intent to look into the permitting process in this case.
“We are listening to you as Council and mayor, but you do have to understand there’s some legal ramifications that come across the board,” he said.
Residents were also upset there was no public hearing on the cell tower before it was erected. A public notice ran in The Champion newspaper before the permit was approved, and said Vertical Bridge was accepting feedback on the tower. The notice was not widely publicized and listed the city as Lithonia.
“My city has let me down,” Stonecrest resident Tammy Grimes said. “When I pass on Evans Mill, and I see that monopole tower near the church, I am devastated to know that a red flag went up and nobody saw it.”
Officials also discussed the process for future building permit approvals. Adoma said applicants should no longer be able to build with a “special authorization permit” without the City Council being notified, which is what happened in the case of the cell tower.
Lary said for about the next 60 days, he would personally inform the Council members of any pending special authorization permits.
In other news:
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.