The City Council vowed during a work session last week to fight the Mobile Broadband Infrastructure Leads to Development Act, a telecommunications bill introduced by a Cobb lawmaker.
If it passes, cellphone companies would be able to leapfrog the public hearings and zoning meetings currently required before new cell towers can be approved.
City Councilman Bill Thrash said it could wrest control from local governments.
“This really infringes on home rule,” he said.
Their weapons will be an official resolution condemning the act, to be read at Monday’s regular meeting, and phone calls to the Cobb delegation to put the brakes on it.
“This really undermines your zoning-enabling authority,” said Kennesaw Zoning Administrator Darryl Simmons. “That means if they even go over the height restrictions that we have, it takes placement and distance from residential out of our hands.”
Simmons said the law would hamstring the city right down to its communications.
“We can’t even review it, based on the wording,” he said.
City Councilman Bruce Jenkins said there would be a 150-day window. If it closes, the cell tower is automatically approved.
“It has what you call a ‘shot clock.’ If at any point in time you even entertain something, you don’t have to say yes or no, or if you contact them, the clock starts,” he said.
The bill, sponsored by six legislators including Rep. Don Parsons of northeast Cobb, is being reviewed in a House of Representatives committee.
“They’ve gone back through two or three reviews of this thing, and it keeps gaining ground,” Jenkins said.
Mayor Mark Mathews said the Atlanta Regional Commission came out against it, after he “put it on their radar.”
An organized response supported by other cities like Atlanta and Acworth may stop the juggernaut, Simmons said.
Otherwise, he said, the city doesn’t have tools with which to fight back.
“The one thing we have as a backdrop is McCollum Airport. That’s the only thing we can get them on, the FAA thing. That’s height. That doesn’t protect the residents. It takes it out of our hands totally,” Simmons said.
Jenkins said cell companies can also control the rents charged by local governments when cell towers are built on public land.
“The one thing it does, too, is on fees — it sets a fee,” Jenkins said. “It overrides any kind of fees that we want charged.”
Parson said those fears are unfounded.
“It in no way takes home rule away. Anyone who says that hasn’t read the bill,” he said.
Parsons said he took the bill out of the Rules Committee, which decides which bills go to the floor for a vote, to tweak it Friday.
“I decided I would go ahead and address some issues and take out some things that might be confusing,” he said.
“We had information that mirrored FCC regulations regarding existing towers, that you could do certain things and not go through the whole zoning process if it didn’t change the size of the tower. I took that out.”
Parsons also refuted wresting control of rental fees from local governments.
“If the cell tower goes on public property, then they pay a market rate based on fair market value,” he said.
Cell companies support the bill, as do chambers of commerce and other economic development agencies, he said.
“There is a real need to get this cellular service and bandwidth out there,” he said, noting he has a video about the bill on his website, www.donparsons.org.
Parsons said he expected the bill to be passed before Thursday, which is Crossover Day in the General Assembly, when bills must be passed in one chamber to be considered by the other.