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State shoots down plan for cell tower looming over Oakland Cemetery; alternatives under review

A site plan of the cell tower site as seen in RESCOM's report. Oakland Cemetery is to the left and the Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts is to the right.

By John Ruch

A heavily criticized plan to erect a cell tower looming over Oakland Cemetery has been shot down by the state’s historic preservation office. The developer is now looking at alternatives that could include choosing a new site altogether.

As SaportaReport revealed earlier this week, Chamblee-based CitySwitch is proposing a 165-foot-tall tower on CSX railroad land directly next to the cemetery and Cabbagetown’s Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts, both of which are historic landmark properties. CitySwitch consultant RESCOM Environmental Corp. in April submitted a report to the state claiming the tower would have no visual impact on those sites or other nearby historic districts, including that of Martin Luther King Jr.

That claim was criticized by neighborhood organizations, historic preservation groups and City of Atlanta planners, as was the lack of outreach to the public and adjacent property owners.

The Georgia Historic Preservation Division (HPD), a state agency, is reviewing the project as part of a process required for a Federal Communication Commission decision about the tower. In a May 5 letter to RESCOM, HPD Division Director Jennifer Dixon said the agency agrees with the critics.

Dixon wrote that “it is HPD’s opinion that the tower, as proposed, will have an adverse effect on historic properties… due to the tower’s incompatible height, looming visual nature, and close proximity to four [National Register of Historic Places] listed districts where the pastoral, park-like setting and low scale, low height late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century suburban residential development is a character-defining feature of their significance…” The term “adverse effect” was written in boldface.

She noted that the railroad itself could be an affected historic resource, as it is eligible for listing on the National Register.

Dixon said the developer now is required to propose alternatives to avoid or minimize the historic impacts, which could include anything from changing the design to picking another site. “As such, we look forward [to] commenting on those alternatives as soon as they are available,” she wrote.

Jamie Cochran-Smith, RESCOM’s vice president of cultural resources, sent an email that same day to several groups designated as official commenters to the HPD to notify them of the decision. Cochran-Smith said CitySwitch is working on alternatives and the process could take “some time.”

“This client does listen to local feedback, and they have changed or moved proposed towers in the past when possible,” Cochran-Smith wrote. “Due to your concerns and comments, our client has been looking into better alternatives… Our client is working to see if there are any other alternatives that might work here.”

The controversial site is just one of dozens — including at least 18 within Atlanta — that CitySwitch has listed on a map as “preapproved” for cell towers up to 195 feet high. The sites are on railroad rights-of-way where one of CitySwitch’s selling points is the lack of typical local government review.

The proposal of the tower next to the cemetery and Cabbagetown triggered a state and federal review due to the proximity to historic properties. HPD told SaportaReport last week that it currently has no other cell tower projects under historic review within Atlanta.

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1 Comment

  1. Mark Seigel May 12, 2022 1:20 pm

    Put towers on the MARTA stations!!!Report

    Reply

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