By Gerhard Schneibel
gerhard@reporternewspapers.net

The Sandy Springs City Council voted 5-1 Oct. 21 to allow Mount Pleasant, S.C.-based American Media Services to build four 303-foot radio towers at the Blue Heron Golf Club on Morgan Falls Road.

The use permit will last as long as the 40-year easement allowing the golf course.

Dist. 6 Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny cast the no vote.

“I have very serious concerns about the public benefit of a radio station operating in our community in green space,” she said. “I also want to know, what’s the rush?”

McEnerny said the city’s comprehensive plan, adopted last November, prohibits radio towers in parks. She also noted that of the 13 agencies contacted for comment, only the Fulton County Land Division had responded.

The use permit was granted before Fulton County Emergency Management could comment, even though the tower will be built on the same property as a 911 radio tower. It was granted before Fulton County Environmental Health Services could comment, though the golf course hosting the towers sits atop a capped landfill.

McEnerny also noted that the city’s zoning ordinance doesn’t allow radio or cellular towers to be built within a quarter mile of each other — a regulation the use permit will circumvent.

“At least we need to honor that,” she said.

Frank McCoy, the president of American Media Services, said his company plans to sell the radio station once it is established. His company will launch the station and do business locally as Sandy Springs Broadcasting LLC.

The Fulton County Commission denied a proposal to build the towers on county land between Roswell and Alpharetta in 2005.

During daytime hours, the station will broadcast on AM-830 at 50,000 watts — the maximum power for an AM station — and will reach much of north Georgia. At night it will broadcast only locally with a weaker signal because of a conflict with Minneapolis’ clear-channel WCCO on the 830 frequency.

According to a Federal Communications Commission action in June, the call letters for the Sandy Springs station will be WFGM.

McCoy said the towers will be “as thin and as invisible as humanly possible.”

“Obviously, most of the revenue would be during the day,” he said. Despite the daytime power of the station, he also said: “The only business model that would work … would be local. It just seems like a perfect fit.”

McCoy did not discuss the station’s format.

Athletic boosters from North Springs Charter High School attended the meeting to support McCoy’s application. They were promised coverage of the school’s sports events, internships for students and even radio coverage of the school’s plays.

Bruce Hagan, the president of the booster club, said the owners of the radio station will “engage and embrace local community support because that’s where their advertising base comes from.”

North Springs students have a weekly outlet on Radio Sandy Springs, a low-wattage station on AM-1620. That station’s owner, David Moxley, did not return calls for comment.

Mayor Eva Galambos said the high-power station will serve as an economic development tool because “Sandy Springs” will be broadcast throughout north Georgia once an hour when the station runs its required identification.

“Our name is going to be heard far and wide,” she said.

But Linda Bain, the executive director of the Sandy Springs Conservancy, said the decision “will set precedent as to how we view are parks. Is this how we want to treat future parkland?”

Trisha Thompson of the Sandy Springs Council of Neighborhoods sided with Bain, saying, “Why in the world are you putting a radio tower there that will last and last and be a blight on the community?”

Dist. 2 Councilwoman Dianne Fries disagreed. “It’s a landfill, for God’s sake,” she said.

“There’s just no better place in the city to put it. We’re not going to issue a land-disturbance permit if their paperwork isn’t in order, so there’s a lot of catch-up time. I think that this is going to be a benefit for the city.”