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County approves cell tower, with a twist
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It’s common today for new cell towers to pop up all over. The City of Covington recently fought and lost a frustrating battle to keep one from a residential area.

Tuesday night, the Newton County Board of Commissioners voted to approve an unusual tower at 10816 Old Atlanta Highway with a variance that allows it to be built much closer to three surrounding homes than county regulations normally allow.

The tower, to be built by 52Eighty LLC, will serve as a “microwave backhaul,” which will provide LTE service to about 40 “orphan” area towers without access, a spokesman for the company told the commission. The location was chosen because of its proximity to an existing fiber center owned by Level 3 Communications, which pulls information from a fiber line near the railroad.

The tower will be 150 feet tall. Zoning Administrator Judy Johnston said county regulations for Residential 2 zoning (R2) call for a tower to be at least three times its height from the nearest residences – in this case, 450 feet.

But this one will fall (although hopefully not) well within that limit of three homes. Johnson said one is just 89.5 feet away, one is 300 feet, and the third is 400 feet.

The tower was approved by the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals, the Planning Commission and the county’s paid cell tower consultant nonetheless and was brought to the County Commission for final approval.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz questioned the health impact of a tower so close to homes. However, the Ffederal Telecommunications Act of 1996 prohibits local governments from making decisions based on perceived public safety. The issue was dropped.

The area the tower is to be built is zoned R2 now, but is zoned on future-use maps as industrial.

The companys involved in the tower’s construction have worked with the three neighboring residents, but no one said what types of accommodations, financial or otherwise, have been worked out.

No timeline for the tower’s construction has been set.