On Tuesday morning, the Cobb Board of Commissioners heard proposals for two 150-foot tall towers that would both be placed along Hurt Road near Smyrna.
Both towers would be fashioned with fake branches and vegetation to look like gigantic evergreen trees.
The first of the special land-use permits heard by the board was from NBA star Julius Erving’s company, Dr. J Enterprises LLC, which has partnered with Municipal Communications LLC to sell communities on the benefits of adding wireless communication tower and antennas, even in residential neighborhoods.
This first case involved land owned and occupied by the Hurt Road Baptist Church, located on the south side of Hurt Road, west of Concord Road.
Marietta attorney Garvis Sams, who represents the communication companies and the church, said the primary user of the tower will be AT&T with space for five other communication providers.
Pastor Mike Parker, who has been with Hurt Road Baptist Church for three years, would not disclose the amount Municipal Communications LLC will pay to place the tower on the church property, but did say the money would go back into the neighboring community.
“This money is not going to line anybody’s pocket,” Parker said.
Parker said he was contacted by the communications company twice before, but turned down their request to apply for a tower.
Now Parker said Hurt Road Baptist Church wants to expand its outreach and play a more integral part with “troubled families” in the area.
“When they contacted me again, I said let’s talk,” Parker said.
Camouflaging modern technology
On Tuesday morning, Sams said the stealth tower is “cutting edge technology” and the “next generation of service.” He also showed the commissioners a map demonstrating the holes in wireless service in the area.
The 4.6 acre tract of church property is zoned residential and is surrounded by housing subdivisions, including one to the north within the Smyrna city limits.
According to the application, the wireless tower would be positioned on the east side of the church’s land.
That property line is bordered by three houses, one that is home to a Cobb resident and two that are owned by the church and used as office space.
Although Commissioner Lisa Cupid said she supported the construction of the tower, the county ordinance requires the location to be moved back so the “fall zone” is clear from the Hurt Road right-of-way.
On Tuesday morning, the board approved the tower 5-0, with the stipulation that a different spot on the church property is selected and approved by Cupid, since the proposed tower is in her district.
Parker said the plan for the large grassy field behind the church is to start a soccer league at the end of this month, with flag football and cheerleading in the fall.
“We feel like we are there for the community,” Parker said.
With the change in location, Parker said the church will have to look at several options, which could include forgoing the construction of the tower altogether.
“If God wants us to have a cell tower, we will have a cell tower,” Parker said.
The lesser of two evils
The application for a tower on the Hurt Road Baptist Church property was an excellent example of how to submit a request, Cupid said.
The developer sent 150 fliers to adjacent homeowners and hosted community meetings, one that Cupid said she attended.
In comparison, the second request heard on Tuesday has taken a longer time to negotiate and was not approved.
To the west of the church, down Hurt Road where it begins to bend east of Hicks Road between two lakes, a 110-acre family farm is in need of supplemental income.
The funding could come from a 150-foot wireless communications tower that would host four carriers.
AT&T has spurred the project, with T-Mobile and Verizon also expressing interest, said John Moore, the attorney who presented the case to the board.
The location of the tower would be in the northwest corner of GB’s Stables, a family farm surrounded by residential subdivisions.
On Tuesday morning, three concerned residents from Alexander Place, a subdivision that sits more than half a mile to the east of where the tower would be positioned, said with the approval of the tower on the nearby church property, there is no need for a second tower just miles away.
But Moore, who represents the developer and property owners, said an independent analysis shows the wireless communication coverage would not overlap.
“This is not duplicative at all,” Moore said.
Towering above the tree line
Chad Williams, 29, was raised on the family farm, and it is the only home he has ever known.
The land was purchased by his grandfather, G.B. Williams in 1949 for $5,000, after he spent time working the farm as a sharecropper during the Great Depression, Williams said.
Now the G.B. Farm has a lake, stables that house 50 horses and acres of woods inhabited by wild turkeys, ducks and deer.
Williams said he needs an influx of money to pay property taxes and high liability insurance for the activities at the farm, including birthday parties hosted for Cobb children.
If the special land-use permit is not granted, Williams said he would have to cut down the trees, drain the lake and “put hundreds of hundreds of homes” on the land.
In December, the commissioners delayed a decision about the tower by 60 days. Originally Cupid told the board the tower would have a significant adverse effect and change the aesthetic character of the suburban area surrounding the farm.
But Cupid said Tuesday she was more inclined to support the permit, largely because the previously proposed “industrial-looking” metal tower “was unsightly given how picturesque the site is.”
The new tree design will blend in with the surroundings and “not mire the beauty of the area,” Cupid said.
The opposing neighbors said the tower would still loom as much as 100 feet above the tree line.
The Atlanta-based company Retel Brokerage Services, which formed in 2007 to identify appropriate locations for towers, used elevation software to create a mock photo of how the tower would look surrounded by the wooded area.
The top of the tower in that rendering is above the tree line, but by a much smaller amount than 100 feet.
Commissioners voted 5-0 to delay the approval until a field test can be completed, which would tether a balloon to the ground, allowing it to float to the same height as the proposed tower.