City and county officials from across the state told a House subcommittee Wednesday they fear the legislation would prevent them from controlling cell tower placement to protect safety and neighborhood appearances.
Telecommunication officials told the same panel the legislation is needed to keep rural governments from stalling indefinitely the construction of towers needed to provide sophisticated communications.
The House Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications Committee will vote today on the bill, House Bill 176, sponsored by its chairman, Rep. Don Parsons, R-Marietta. State Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, is a member of the committee.
Floyd County Commissioner Rhonda Wallace said the board is concerned the bill would let commercial businesses override local zoning laws and disrupt the recently completed countywide communication system.
“It appears that, according to the bill, cell phone companies can come in and put a tower up without going by our zoning laws,” Wallace said.
“The city and the county want to make sure that they go by the actual zoning laws that we have worked so hard to keep in place.”
The proposed bill would also pre-empt local governments from recommending alternative locations for a cell tower, even if the proposed site is in a location that adversely affects the city and its residents.
“With our new communications system that we have worked so hard on, we made sure that the towers were strategically placed in order to provide the optimal coverage,” Wallace said. “If someone comes in and puts up a tower somewhere between those spots, it might interfere with our system.”
Wallace and other county commissioners have met with local lawmakers in recent weeks to voice their opposition.
The bill would give local governments 150 days to approve or deny a tower application before it automatically is approved. And it would cap the rental rates on government-owned tower locations at the rate charged by private landowners.
It also allows the owners of existing towers to make them as much as 20-percent taller without government approval.
Both the Association County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association officially stand against the measure.
Tom Thomson, executive director of the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Planning Commission, told the committee his outfit routinely approves applications within the proposed deadline, but he worries the ability to raise existing towers will prevent local governments from insuring no one is harmed if anything falls.
“There’s a public-safety issue there,” he said.
Plus, tall towers could conflict with the look of the historic district.
“We’re strongly concerned about our esthetics, and this bill steps on that a little bit,” he said.
Other witnesses expressed concern that taller towers could get in the way of military flights at bases around the state or make the bases targets for closing.
But industry representatives told the subcommittee Georgia’s economic vitality suffers when technology lags because local officials won’t approve installation of sufficient wireless capacity.
“The general attitude of local government has become more difficult over time,” said Kevin Curtain, lobbyist for AT&T.
Staff Writer Jeremy Stewart contributed to this report.