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BOC approves permit for contested cell tower
BOC cell tower-3-3
County attorney Jeffrey Strickland listens as Commissioner Chris Gaines asks if the board could deny a special-use permit for the cell tower based on its planned appearance. From left, Strickland, Commissioner Sharon Fausett, Gaines and BOC Chairman Billy Thurmond. - photo by Julia Fechter

After a vote was tabled twice, the Dawson County Board of Commissioners reluctantly approved a special-use permit for a Verizon Wireless cell tower near Ga. 52 and Wesley Chapel Road in northeastern Dawson County. 

The March 3 vote was 3-1, with District 3 Commissioner Tim Satterfield voting ‘no’ and Chairman Billy Thurmond abstaining since there was a majority. 

Multiple neighbors to the site voiced their concerns during public hearings at the Nov. 16 Planning Commission and Dec. 16 BOC meetings. 

Residents have complained the structure would be too close to the road, impede their mountain views and negatively impact their property values. 

“I understand [the problem of] obstructing views…but really all the i’s have been dotted and the t’s have been crossed,” said District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett, whose district contains the future tower site. “I really would like to deny it…[and] I wish it would be different, but I’m going to have to make a motion that it be approved.”


Location

The BOC first tabled a decision from its Dec. 16 voting session to allow for a second balloon test with the commissioners present. 

Earlier that same meeting, Verizon lawyer David Kirk announced the company’s decision to locate the structure an additional 300 feet back on the property. Previous plans for the tower’s precise spot had it positioned slightly less than the required three miles from an existing tower to the south. 

The new location will still have the tower at a height of under 200 feet, so night lights will not be needed. There will be room for three other cell carriers on the tower, as required in Dawson County’s ordinance. 

Then on Feb. 3, the measure was tabled again so that the Planning and Development department could get analysis back from a third-party, Level-Up, that was examining Verizon’s application. 

Planning Director Shannon Farrell presented that firm’s results at the March 3 meeting. The report’s final findings stated that Verizon’s application papers were appropriate and should be approved by the board. 

“They clearly illustrated the gap in Verizon coverage…[and] they reviewed Verizon’s sites within a five-mile radius,” said Farrell, “and found that there’s not an existing structure by which a co-location could be designed that would reach the standard of the 80-percent coverage.”

The firm’s report also recommended that if Verizon changes the type of antenna or related technology, then the company and Planning should work to update the building permit. 

“How do y’all come up with the location?”, Satterfield said to Kirk and his client, Verizon rep Greg Spence. 

“Verizon’s engineers, they’re radio frequency engineers,” Spence said. “They directed us to go into a specific range…that was Verizon directly that hired my company to go locate the property.” 


Appearance

But the commissioners still had one sticking point before voting: aesthetics. 

“It appears based on the study that the applicant has met all of the criteria Dawson County has,” District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines said to county attorney Jeffrey Strickland. “However, it’s not something that’s aesthetically pleasing, so is there the ability for the board to deny it based on aesthetics?”

Strickland, a partner with law firm Jarrard & Davis, suggested asking the applicant first. David Kirk followed up by saying his client would be okay moving forward with the standard monopole and monopine or camouflage design options. 

District 4 Commissioner Emory Dooley suggested a singular color, but Spence said the galvanized gray would blend in best with the skyscape. 

The tower will be within an 80-by-80 or 100-by-100-foot chain link fence with surrounding landscaping. Tower site maintenance will be done on a once-monthly basis. 

Fausett inquired about ensuring that site upkeep actually happens, and Spence replied that Verizon has contracts in Georgia for that maintenance to be done. 


Legalities

Right before the vote, Fausett added that although she doesn’t like the idea of the cell tower, she and the other commissioners “can’t vote against our own ordinances and our own rules and regulations.”

Before the vote, Gaines reminded the audience about the county’s lengthy litigation against billboards, only for the county to lose the lawsuit and still get billboards. 

“I echo the same thing,” Dooley added. “It (a cell tower) is one of those things you don’t like, but if it goes any further and we turn it down, it’s going to happen…[and] it’ll cost us a lot of money with the same exact outcome.”