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State says Hulsey Yard antenna would not impact historic sites; local groups disagree

The proposed site of a 70-foot-tall antenna tower in CSX's Hulsey Yard is shown with a red dot on this aerial photo from a historic resources impact report from consultant HDR. Cabbagetown's historic Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts is the building complex to the upper right. The green space inside the J-shaped road at far upper right is where a taller antenna tower was proposed earlier this year.

By John Ruch

The state has agreed that a 70-foot-tall railroad antenna would have “no adverse effect” on Cabbagetown and other adjacent historic areas. But several local groups disagree.

The proposed antenna tower would rise within CSX’s Hulsey Yard freight facility. The site is about 220 feet from the historic Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts and adjacent to the Cabbagetown and Martin Luther King Jr. national historic districts, among other resources. That triggers “Section 106 review,” a report on historic impacts named for part of the federal Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Ultimate comment will come from the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation for a decision by the Federal Communications Commission.

A CSX consultant last month claimed the antenna would have “no adverse impacts” on historic resources.

On Sept. 13, the Georgia Historic Preservation Division (HPD) agreed, saying in a letter that there would be “no adverse effect… due to location and existing visual intrusions.”

That finding is challenged by preservationists and the organization that helps to run the nearby Oakland Cemetery.

The nonprofits Easements Atlanta and the Atlanta Preservation Center (APC) said in official comment letters that the height and scale of the antenna would create negative impacts and that there is nothing similar in that area, despite Hulsey Yard’s industrial use.

Richard Harker, executive director of the Historic Oakland Foundation, wrote in a comment letter that the findings of no impacts is “not correct.” He said the antenna would “create a significant and dramatic negative visual impact to the historic cemetery….” He also said he was “disappointed” in the lack of outreach by the project’s consultant to his organization.

The finding was called inaccurate by Jacob Elsas of Cabbagetown’s Patch Works Art & History Center. In a comment letter, he noted the antenna would be in the direct line of view of residents of the historic mill and that nothing should rival the height of its historic smokestacks.

The City’s Atlanta Urban Design Commission has yet to review the proposal, according to the Department of City Planning.

APC also complained in an email about HPD issuing its opinion before the end of a comment period and before the other groups could state their positions. However, a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, which oversees HPD, said the federal government reviews all of the opinions and the order in which they arrive is “irrelevant.”

The current antenna proposal follows a similar but larger one proposed in April for CSX right of way nearby, right next to the cemetery and the mill. The plan appeared to include an antenna for CSX’s own use as well as antenna space rented to cell phone companies. A company called CitySwitch partners with CSX and Norfolk Southern Corp. to erect such towers on railroad right of ways. Its website previously offered dozens of tower sites in Atlanta and Georgia, but that map was removed following SaportaReport coverage. The cell tower plan received withering criticism from many experts and HPD, leading CitySwitch to back off and examine “alternatives.”

The new Hulsey Yard antenna plan does not involve CitySwitch or cell phone services. CSX says it would be only for internal railroad communications.

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