ATLANTA (CN) - A federal judge upheld Cobb County's decision to ban T-Mobile South from building a 135-foot-tall cell tower inside a church bell tower decoy on a property owned by a local Episcopal church.
In a 23-page signed order, U.S. District Judge William Duffey, Jr., dismissed T-Mobile's claim that the decision from the county board of commissioners was not based on substantial evidence.
T-Mobile, one of the largest owners of wireless communication towers in the country, hoped to boost its network coverage by building a tower on a property intended for residential uses. A zoning ordinance required T-Mobile to apply for a special land-use permit, since the property was zoned to restrict structures higher than 35 feet.
Although the local zoning board concluded that T-Mobile's application complied with the requirements of the ordinance, the board of commissioners denied the application after hearing evidence from the company and from local residents.
In a November 2009 hearing, T-Mobile argued that it needed the new tower to provide better coverage to customers in Cobb County. The company claimed that the structure would not affect residential property values in the area and presented property value reports from two subdivisions in other parts of the county, which were adjacent to cell towers. Local residents opposed the construction of the tower, claiming they were satisfied with T-Mobile coverage in the area and that the proposed tower was not an appropriate land use for the area.
Kacey Lewis, a local licensed realtor, argued that the cell tower would lower the value of nearby homes.
T-Mobile applied for an injunction, claiming that the board's decision to deny the application was based only on aesthetic objections and thus violated the company's rights under the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
The court backed the board's decision, finding that T-Mobile failed to justify need for the tower since it had previously advertised its superior signal strength.
"T-Mobile has not addressed and certainly has not resolved this discrepancy in what it has represented about the quality of its service in the area," Duffey wrote. "Plaintiff did not offer any evidence to show any change in circumstances causing its service to erode from 'best' to 'poor.'"
The ruling adds that T-Mobile showed no evidence that its local customers had complained about dropped calls, and that the wireless provider had relied on an improper economic impact analysis that studied homes built around pre-existing cell towers.