Fair Trade? Not on cellphone-tower law
by The Savannah Morning News
March 12, 2013 12:15 AM | 1522 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Georgia lawmakers should avoid making changes in regulations that will affect the future placement of cellphone towers, an issue that has triggered neighborhood unrest here and elsewhere.

Lobbyists for the wireless communications industry are pushing a bill in Atlanta that they argue would streamline the current process and provide more predictability.

That’s generally true. However, there’s a big price — local governments would have less flexibility and control.

That’s what worries area planners who deal with cell tower permits on a regular basis. They’ve asked Chatham County lawmakers to oppose the measure.

Unless the bill undergoes major revisions, that’s what legislators should do. It rates a thumb’s down. ...

Supporters for the bill argue that it would promote wireless communications expansion and spur economic development. ...

“This bill does not affect the ability of local jurisdictions to establish and enforce local zoning, nor does it require any permit be approved,” said a spokesman for AT&T in Nashville, Tenn. “It strikes a common-sense balance between the needs of local governments to design zoning and land use policy and the needs of consumers and businesses for wireless services they are demanding.”

It’s probably true that demand for service is up. However, local planners need flexibility to do their jobs. Fortunately, they’ve been pro-active in that regard here.

In 2007, Chatham County and Savannah adopted a model zoning ordinance regarding cell towers. It’s fair to neighborhoods and fair to wireless companies. That’s what more cities and counties should do.

Tom Thomson, executive director of the Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission, argues that what the industry is seeking “aren’t minor changes. They are major ones.” That’s a big red flag. He added that “visual compatibility is a big thing with these towers, which is why it’s always such a fight.”

He’s absolutely correct on that score. That’s why state lawmakers shouldn’t unduly handcuff local governments. Legislators don’t have to deal with all the fire that can erupt over cell towers. But county commissioners and mayors do.

The bill is called the Broadband Infrastructure Leads to Development Act. That label is somewhat misleading. In reality, the bill’s purpose is to create more standardization regarding the permitting process for towers.

If enacted, the measure probably would save time and money for wireless companies.

But planners argue that it will lead to less local control — and potentially more citizens who are irate. That’s not a fair trade.
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