In a March 27 letter to CEO Burrell Ellis – signed by all seven members – the commissioners said the county should not ignore its ordinance unless it has been proven in court that they must ignore their adopted policy.
The commissioners – Elaine Boyer, Jeff Rader, Larry Johnson, Sharon Barnes Sutton, Lee May, Kathie Gannon and Stan Watson – said that if any private company applied for a building permit to erect a cell tower in a single-family residential district, it would be denied.
“Therefore we respectfully recommend that the Planning and Sustainability Department not issue any building permits for the cell towers to the Board of Education, or any other property owner without the owner complying with applicable DeKalb County zoning law,” they said.
Walter Woods, the school system’s spokesman, said Thursday that the district would like the ability to raise money for schools through its lease with T-Mobile, just like other school districts are doing.
“Other neighboring districts have multiple towers and have no problems,” he said. “But the county is our partner and we will work with them and we respect their counsel and guidance.”
Woods said that T-Mobile will be applying for the permits, and not the district. The district signed 30-year contracts with the wireless provider on Dec. 8 to erect the 150-foot cell towers at six elementary schools, two high schools and a comprehensive school.
The schools, picked by the DeKalb School Board in its July 12, 2011 vote, are Flat Rock and Princeton elementary and MLK Jr. High in Lithonia; Briarlake and Narvie J. Harris elementary in Decatur; Smoke Rise Elementary in Stone Mountain; Jolly Elementary in Clarkston; and Lakeside High and Margaret Harris Comprehensive School in Atlanta.
Under the agreement, T-Mobile will pay the district more than $2.3 million in rent over 30 years and each of the schools’ PTSAs will get a $25,000 one-time payment and an additional $25,000 each time T-Mobile co-locates other providers on the towers. The school district will be paid $16,800 per year plus $4,800 for each provider that co-locates on the towers.
Through Thursday, he said the company had not yet made any applications to the county.
“They are still doing site preparation,” he said.
Since the school board’s decision, parents and community residents opposed to the decision, have been pushing for a position from the board of commissioners. They have also pursued state legislators to pass laws exempting the use of school properties for cell towers.
Opponents of the decision said that enough is not known of the health risks of cell tower emissions on children’s growing bodies, and that the school properties are primarily in residential neighborhoods and the 150-foot towers will negatively affect the value of homeowners properties.
In their May 27 letter to the CEO, the commissioners argued that the Board of Education’s leasing of schools for cell towers to increase revenues is a “proprietary function and not a governmental function.
“Rather than being passive regarding DeKalb County zoning regulations and ignoring citizens complaints about cell towers in residential zones and on school property, we recommend DeKalb County take a more active role to protect the interest of citizens and uphold adopted ordinances.”
The commissioners also said that the Board of Education cell towers decision places the county government in “an untenable position.”
“It is the policy of DeKalb County as determined by the Board of Commissioners to prohibit cell towers on single-family residentially-zones properties,” the commissioners said. “This zoning ordinance was established to ensure the safety of county residents and to protect property values of single-family homes.”
A response from Ellis was not available at press time.