Amateur radio operator clashes with code enforcement
by Jon Gillooly
October 08, 2012 01:03 AM | 38422 views | 209 209 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ritner Nesbitt sits among some of his older ham radio equipment at his west Cobb home. <br> Photo by Laura Moon
Ritner Nesbitt sits among some of his older ham radio equipment at his west Cobb home.
Photo by Laura Moon
slideshow
(MDJ Photo/Laura Moon)
(MDJ Photo/Laura Moon)
slideshow
KENNESAW – Lifelong amateur radio enthusiast Ritner Nesbitt, a grandfather of 10 who lives down the road from Dominion Christian Schools in west Cobb, has attracted the unwelcome attention of the county’s code enforcement department.

Nesbitt said he moved to his home, which is located on a wooded slope across the street from Burnt Hickory Farms subdivision, 20 years ago precisely because it was an excellent spot to pursue his passion for amateur radio, also known as ham radio, a non-commercial radio communication service.

He erected three radio towers on the slope behind his home in the 1990s: two that crank up to 35 feet and one that is 70 feet in height.

Two years ago, he built a fourth 140 foot radio tower which he estimates cost him “easily” $30,000 to $40,000.

In March, the county received a complaint about the tower and issued Nesbitt a notice of violation. Nesbitt responded to this notice by arguing that ham radio operators are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission and therefore are exempt from local ordinances. But just to be safe, he applied for a special land permit for the 140 foot tower, which the county’s Planning Commission denied on Tuesday in a 5-0 vote.

The matter now heads to the Board of Commissioners on Oct. 16.

During Tuesday’s hearing, John Pederson, the county’s zoning division manager, said any tower above 35 feet needs a special land use permit unless it’s a ham radio tower in which case the county allows a property owner to have one that is up to 70 feet in height.

Pederson also said the county did not have building permits on record for either the 70 foot or the 140 foot tower, something that was required.

Bob Hovey, Commissioner Helen Goreham’s appointment to the Planning Commission, led the case to deny the permit during the meeting.

“Can you tell us how we got to the place where we basically ignored the law for land use permits and building permits for 10 years?” Hovey asked Nesbitt’s attorney, Christopher Balch, during the hearing.

Balch said there was never an intention to defy the county’s ordinance.

“We’ve tried to reach a balance based on Mr. Nesbitt’s lay understanding of (the FCC) and its preemption status and respond appropriately under those circumstances,” Balch said.

County attorney Dorothy Bishop weighed in with her opinion on the 140 foot tower.

“The tower does have to comply with local ordinances because it’s a balancing act between the rights of the amateur radio operator and the county zoning, so this application should be considered under the same criteria as any tower of its size,” Bishop said.

While no one turned out to speak against the tower during the hearing, one of Nesbitt’s neighbor’s, Jodi Siciliano, told the Journal she hopes the Board of Commissioners will deny the request.

“My objection is that my house faces his backyard, so I look right at them, and you know, we have nice houses here, and they’re very unsightly, not nice to look at, these huge gigantic radio towers that you’re facing, plus, they are very, very tall, and if one of them were to come down it would come down close to my driveway,” said Siciliano, who said she moved in her house in 2006.

Nesbitt, who is retired from the telephone and construction industries, said he will defend his towers in court if necessary.

“If I knew I was wrong in what my privileges provide I’d take steps to change it or correct it,” Nesbitt said. “But the FCC has given me this privilege, and I’ve had this privilege for nearly 50 years. I’m not about to let somebody take it because they just feel like taking it. That’s wrong.”

Nesbitt said he learned about amateur radio as a teenager in Miami when a classmate couldn’t figure out how to work his short wave radio.

“After building that one radio, I got it to work, I bought other small kits, and then I started hearing these guys talking to one another, these were ham operators. And I said, ‘I wanted to do that.’”

Nesbitt taught himself how to send and receive Morse code and later learned how to talk over the radio with a microphone. One room in his house is entirely devoted to the hobby, filled with various transceivers dating to the 1950s, all of them in working order.

“There are over 600,000 licensed ham radio operators in the United States,” Nesbitt said. “We come out when there are national emergencies. We don’t get any monies for our services. This is a voluntary group of operators. (The FCC) they recognize the importance of operators in national disasters and emergency conditions. There is no other service in the U.S. that does what we do on a 24/7 hour basis. So that is the reason they have an interest. When all else goes down in a natural disaster, when land line communication goes out, we’re there, and we’ve been there under all conditions. When they had the earthquake in Haiti, when they had the problems over in the Far East, when they had several tsunamis and there was no communication, the only way communications got out was through ham radio.”

Nesbitt said he has befriended fellow ham radio operators from all over the world.

“One of my most exciting conversations was when I talked to a guy in the Antarctic,” he said. “He’s on nothing but ice. There are research firms that are down there doing research and they use ham radio to communicate back to the States.”

Nesbitt said he didn’t want to calculate how much he has spent on his hobby, otherwise, his wife, Patricia, would use it against him next time he wanted to make a purchase.

As for the county, “They want to impose their law and the federal government is the law that I am governed by,” he said.

Yet Hovey views it differently.

“These houses have a right to walk out their front door and not see what amounts to an illegal tower in their front yard,” Hovey said. “Now, I have friends who are radio amateurs, and I can’t even call them part of the day because they stay up all night on their radios. This is a serious thing, and I respect amateur radio, and I think this is a great civil service these folks provide, but it doesn’t mean they can ignore the rights of their neighbors.”
Comments
(209)
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CQ CQ 20M
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February 28, 2013
Rit, i read in QST or CQ that there is cloaking capabilities and they coated a contest station with this particular type or covering and you wouldn't even 'see' the towers... was in there a few years ago. maybe worth looking at.
Disenchanted
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November 04, 2012
If local government get their way on ham towers where will it stop? Next they might go after broadcasters, cell operations, and any other source that makes modern technology work.

I don't think we live in a communist country, or maybe it's going that way.

What if local governments originally did this to Marconi, Armstrong, Tesla, Edison, or any other entrepreneur that could even have the possibility of developing the next technology.

I bet if we piss off the hams they might not be their for us in the future when needed.
WB7PTR
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August 15, 2013
The government can be real control freaks. They should really recognize that we (I'm a ham too) provide communications when the infrastructure is out, like after a hurricane or earthquake, something like that. You are quite right ... piss off the hams and there could be problems. I would not let politics get in the way but I do know many would if it related to the hobby (like towers, etc.) As far as I'm concerned, it's best to try and work together to solve problems ... but sometimes that just doesn't work. If they shut down his towers, I hope this guy is able to put something together for an antenna after the next disaster!
anonymous
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November 01, 2012
"This generation today is terrible."

Socrates!
RoscoeDude
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November 01, 2012
BEYOND TICKED you have some strange belief that you are being irradiated by a ham. You are subjected to radiation in large amounts everyday. Are you of the belief you should get less radiation than I or others get? A little low power Morse Code I am sure won't make a big difference in the major scheme of things. Are you beyond ticked off because you are special? Perhaps we all should step aside for your pleasure! Why should you be any more special than anyone else? Perhaps you have insights due to your age that other hams do not and never can achieve. Sorry I just don't buy it!
anonymous
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November 01, 2012
Old Timer Ham you win, you are indeed without flaw or fault. You are the perfect person indeed. Your leadership has made Amateur Radio what it is today. You are an Elmer that has taught his flock well and lead from example. I feel you have been an inspiration to all us Hams under 85 years of age. Oop's I almost forgot to address you as Sir, but that was only common 70 or more years ago. I am positive that you lead the way with your perfect lifestyle as you never drank alcohol, never operated an auto while drinking, never failed to put a penny in a parking meter even when you were going in to the store for less than a minute. All of us Hams really appreciate they way you taught all the Hams to come your morals and ethics, as great man you are.

Or perhaps more realistically you are exaggerating just a little of the perfection you and the original batch of hams showed to the world. Perhaps some drank, were arrested, or failed to put a penny in the parking meter just once. Please loose the holier than thou position you are using as no one here believes you. I am sure you believe your generation of hams were better hams in your eyes, but unfortunately most of your contemporary hams are gone now or are you exaggerating your age as well? Perhaps you fought in WWI but I doubt that to be a possibility. So please, don't toss you perfection around in an attempt to diminish anyone younger than yourself. That attitude diminishes your contemporaries as well as yourself.
BEYOND TICKED
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November 01, 2012
THERE ARE ROGUES AMONG YOU ..DO ANY OF YOU THINK ITS REASONABLE TO BLAST SOMEONES HOME FOR OVER 3 YEARS WITH SMALL CHILDREN A MORSE CODE 24 HRS A DAY 7 DAYS A WEEK FOR 20 SEC INCREMENTS EVERY MINUTE AT DIFFERENT LEVELS ... I WONDER IF A REAL HAM WOULD DO THIS.. TO HIDE BEHIND A FED LICENSE IS DESPICABLE TO ME...
BEYOND TICKED
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November 02, 2012
oh I forgot the minor low power code .. how about up 90 decibels... don't worry I have that recorded...... the funny thing is everyone I've spoken with can't believe we have to deal with this. just remember the FCC follows the laws set by congress...don't be surprised if some change.i guess your also aware many townships,communities etc.. do not allow radio operations at all (across the U.S.A.)
WV3E
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November 27, 2012
BEYOND TICKED - I suggest you consult an expert in the field of RF exposure before you form an uninformed opinion. You'll be exposed to more RF (but still well below safe limits) living in the path of a broadcast or shortwave station than you will living next to a licensed amateur. We are required as a condition of our licenses to limit the strength of our RF emissions to safe levels. The limits for public exposure are far below what we expose ourselves to, since we as operators are subject to the occupational limits, which are higher. Get your fact straight before spouting nonsense.
KK4KHK
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December 12, 2012
Local governments must reasonably accommodate amateur operations in zoning decisions as documented by the partial preemption called PRB-1. The legal cite for PRB-1 is: 101 FCC 2d 952 (1985). § 97.15 provides that an amateur station antenna structure may be erected at heights and dimensions sufficient to accommodate effective amateur service communications.
Old Timer Ham
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October 16, 2012
The vast majority of comments made here confirm the sorry state of amateur radio today. A once proud hobby and service has degraded into a me self-centered I can do whatever I want mess today. Amateur radio operators in the past addressed each other as sir or gentlemen. The petulant children which make up the ranks of hams today are neither.
RoscoeDude
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November 01, 2012
Apparently "Old Timer Ham Dude" no longer actively participates in Amateur Radio, he seems to be one of the many "Old Timers" that gripe and complain about everything that has changed in the long life that is afforded them here in the good old USA.

Amateur Radio is alive and doing very well thank you. Hams regularly contact astronauts and cosmonaut, use satellites to bounce a signal around the globe, use the Moon, Asteroids and even the Aurora Borealis to reflect signals to distant lands. There are Amateur Radio Ops in almost every nation on Earth excluding countries like N. Korea and other draconian nations. I am sure with Hurricane Sandy there are many Hams actively passing emergency radio traffic to loved ones around the globe while land line and cellular telephone technology is temporarily out of service in many hurricane ravaged areas on the NE USA.

Some here are very quick to condemn Mr. Ritner Nesbitt, while I on the other hand commend him for his very community minded support. I wonder if the powers that be are still so leather bottomed in their short sightedness in the matter after Hurricane Sandy's very destructive storm? Perhaps these powers that be should revisit the hard line policies that have become a laughing stock in the halls of the Homeland Security and FEMA. I suppose hindsight is always 100%, but now that they have been enlightened by Sandy and the great and powerful forces of Mother Nature if the code enforcement bureaucrats may revise the age old codes that neighbors with pretty little groomed lawns like and now can see the need for tall towers and Amateur Radio in general.
FCC Towers
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October 14, 2012
Hey K4MFD, I must have missed that announcement. When did the FCC start giving away towers? I want one too. Thanks.
anonymous
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October 14, 2012
The tower was there over a year and now they complain??? Just another case of I want to tell my neighbor what to do and how to set up there place. All I can say is shut up and mind your own business. We ham operators have a legal right to erect a tower given to us by the FCC and no local government can take that right away. Take the fight to them and you WILL win. It's never stops to amaze me how neighbors and local governments want to have control over people. All I want to tell you neighbor is MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.

K4MFD

Jeffrey Bible
Serious Listener
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October 15, 2012
Last I checked, my FCC amateur radio license of almost 30 years grants me privileges to operate a transmitter on certain FCC allocated radio spectrum that my license class allows, it does not give me a RIGHT to anything. It certainly is not a pass or exemption at local, county or state laws, nor a middle finger to my neighbors, my county government, and the community in general.

But what do I know.

Nesbitt Defense Fund
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October 14, 2012
When a coronal mass ejection or some big gamma ray knocks out the satellites, and anarchy rules, it will be the HAM radio operators we will depend on. We must not let government takes away our guns, and our HAM radio.

Someone should set up a Nesbitt Defense Fund.

Good Deal
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October 14, 2012
@Nesbitt Defense Fund

You make one excellent point and a second mystery statement. We all know the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, but try as I might I cannot identify which amendment guarantees the right to own a ham radio? Please share which amendment guarantees the right to own a ham radio? As to the Nesbitt Defense Fund, good idea. Will you be willing to manage it and make the first donation?
WS4B
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October 13, 2012
While hindsight is always 20/20, crank-up towers are always the way to go. Ritner could then easily use the argument that his towers are not at a fixed height, and can be lowered when not in use or when bad weather is approaching. I wish him the best of luck in his fight.
K5RDA
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October 13, 2012
Let me think, We live in the USA.. We can not put natavity seane where we want. We can not put our American flag where we want, We can't put towers where we want.Yet they had no problem sending me to fight for the rights they take away from us. I am one who have 10 acres and I fought for my rights, I pay taxes, Remember

Don't Tread On Me!!!!
Dr PoliSci
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October 14, 2012
@K5RDA

With rights, comes responsibility. Think about it. Hint: The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled there are some limits to free speech. It is not an absolute right. Because you pay taxes, that does not give you the right to violate laws or infringe on a fellow citizen's rights.
Marion, Iowa
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October 12, 2012
@WA0ZZG

Sorry Dave, Your Iowa laws do not apply here in Georgia, and PRB-1 does not apply here either.
Former Fed
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October 12, 2012
I'm not sure where you got your law degree but PRB 1 is a FEDERAL law, which means that ALL OF THE US has to go by it. Grow up, cb boy.
Dave WA0ZZG
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October 12, 2012
1. It looks like nobody did their homework before asking the city to solve their neighborhood problem. If you ask government to solve a problem, expect a solution nobody likes.

2. A homeowner complaining after a year of operation indicates the tower had to be pointed out to them. These kind of towers tend to disappear after a while. They simply are no longer noticed. Their falling is not a big issue. If they do fall, they stay within the diameter of the tower anchors because they fold up.

3. The only people that benefit from a court case are the attorneys. There is no guarantee what the outcome will be. Facts get left at the door.

4. Don't dig your heels in.
K7NL
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October 12, 2012
Ritner,

There have been a number of these cases across the US, as one can imagine. I haven't heard of any where the amateur radio operator lost. If your attorney does his homework, you shouldn't have any problems.

Best of Luck,

Dave
Mesa, AZ
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October 12, 2012
@K7NL

Sorry Dave, Your Arizona laws do not apply here in Georgia, and PRB-1 does not apply here either.
Mesa is dumb.
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October 12, 2012
Hey Mesa, PRB 1 is a federal law. Im not sure where you got your law degree but that applies even in the south, genius
Herb S
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October 11, 2012
All hams, please take your disputes and comments back to 75 meters and QRZ. Thank you.

Herb S
Ben Dover
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October 12, 2012
A lot of good that will do Herb!!!!!
K5LWT
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October 11, 2012
HIRE A LAWYER TEAM...SUE THE NEIGHBOR for hindering your rights Sue the town and county and and continue on this route MAKE IT KNOWN WE HAMS WILL FIGHT FOR OUR RIGHTS..........

kk4ldd
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October 11, 2012
What? Fight for rights? Its a privilege, not a right. The FCC grants us these licenses in the public interest. I don't think he has rights over local codes and ordinances.

I do believe these days, people use the government to control things they see and don't like when their coffee doesn't taste good.

But Nesbitt may have pushed to far. And that may be why it became a legal issue. As a licensee he could be more in touch with his community as a servant with unique privilege and way to serve the community.

I am glad for things like this . As a new HAM I am finding my own ideals and place in the community.
WW5RM
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October 12, 2012
@KK4LDD

His rights to put what ever he wants on his own property! Since when did we have to go and ask our neighbors if it was ok to do what we wish with our own property? Since we became a socialist nation?

To the complaining neighbor the tower essentially has nothing to do with radio other than the fact he put antennas and feed line on it. If anyone who owns property out in the county as Mr. Nesbitt does they should be able to erect whatever they please!

This is about his property. But the neighbors and the county is telling him what he can and can not do with it. I mean the radio side of it can be a good thing for the community but this treads on our freedoms and civil liberties!!
kb3cvi
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October 11, 2012
The thing I dont understand is that the tower has been there for 2 years. It was then reported in march. At least 1 year later. So that tells me that code enforcement is not doing there job. 140 foot tower can't be that hard to see from any area within reasonable driving distance and as per there job is to look for new construction sites to make sure the permits are there. Fire them all and get them out of the donut shop like they do here. As for the neighbor to bad for her. If it was a eyesore then she should of said something as it was going up,not 12 months later.
WA9NLA
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October 12, 2012
Amen
Southern By Choice
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October 13, 2012
@kb3cvi

Tim, we find it necessary to inform Yankees to direct their attention toward one of our most popular sayings here in Dixie, and that is, "We Don't Care How You Do It Up North."
KB2BAF
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October 14, 2012
@Southern by Choice. Then you abviously don't respect Federal Law. Only Southern Law.
A Politician
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October 10, 2012
Well, I see the writing on the wall. There is not a snowball chance in h..l that Mr. Nesbitt will ever get a fair shake. In politics it is how bad you can make a person look so you can look better.

I can bet you at this very moment county officials are behind the scene working deligently on a well crafted plan to deny his application.

I'm also a betting man. Do I have any takers?
Hiram Percy Maxham
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October 10, 2012
What a sad day for amateur radio, when someone has to erect a 140 foot extension of his massive ego, prior to talking to neighbors and county zoning officials. Such a simple case where diplomacy and sugar would have gotten Nesbitt most or all he wanted. Now he has a legal battle on his hands that he can never win, and he has alienated his neighbors forever, not to mention giving amateur radio a huge negative image in the county.
KD8HDQ
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October 11, 2012
BULL
KD8HDQ the LID
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October 11, 2012
KD8HDQ, do you bicker on 75 meters, 20 meters, or both?
D. Lowrey
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October 11, 2012
As Ham and an educator in a small town...this has nothing with what is legal or illegal. It has to do with people who will not feel good about themselves until they make everyone else around them miserable.
spie
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October 15, 2012
what about those ugly cell phone towers,anyone afraid they might fall?they don"t give cell phones a huge negative image.
WB2EYE
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October 25, 2012
Amen Hiram is probably turning over in his grave at the state of ham radio today. Damned incentive licensing BS.
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