By Amy Wenk
Red signs that shout in white letters “No cell tower in my neighborhood!” are sitting in the yards of many Sandy Springs residents who live along streets such as Mount Vernon Highway, Dupree Drive and Old Powers Ferry Road.
Homeowners placed the signs to protest Verizon Wireless’ plan to build a 119-foot-tall cell tower near the water tank on Dupree Drive. The proposal was introduced to the community in late April.
“This blindsided the neighborhood,” said resident Barry Lebowitz who lives on Old Powers Ferry Road. “There are many people in this neighborhood who don’t want this cell tower.”
Around 150 people have signed petitions in opposition. “We’re building momentum,” said resident Ina Clark, who lives within 300 feet of where Verizon proposes to put the 12-story tower.
Lebowitz and Clark were two of almost 20 residents who condemned Verizon’s plan during a May 26 meeting at Sandy Springs City Hall.
“The issues are really huge,” Clark said.
Residents say they worry the tower will harm their property values and could cause health problems.
Residents also questioned the need for the tower, its structural integrity and appearance, and how it would be secured and maintained. Some homeowners said they are distressed just by the idea of a cell tower.
“This has been emotionally disruptive to my family,” said resident Steven Kleber, who lives off Old Powers Ferry Road. “My son is having nightmares.”
Kleber’s son Shane elaborated after the meeting. “I dreamed that the cell tower fell on me,” the 8-year-old said.
Four or five people with Verizon were present to answer questions and answer the community’s concerns.
The cellular company has spent the last five years looking for a location in Sandy Springs to build the cell tower.
David Kirk, an attorney who represents Verizon, said the tower will “meet a clear need for Verizon’s network” and will improve cellular service for the area.
“Verizon does not enter into proceedings like this lightly,” Kirk said.
Verizon currently is in negotiations with the city of Atlanta Watershed Department to lease land for the cell tower. The city of Atlanta owns the strip of land at the corner of Dupree Drive and Old Powers Ferry Road where a water tank now sits.
“It is a huge eyesore to begin with,” Clark said. Adding a cell tower on the site “would dwarf our houses. It would be a disaster.”
Hoping to compromise with nearby residents, Kirk said there are options to make the cell tower shorter and less visible to passersby. The original proposal called for a 160-foot-tall structure, but now the plan is for a structure 41 feet shorter.
Kirk said the tower could be designed to look like a pine tree like the one that sits near the Country Store at the corner of Mount Paran Road and Northside Drive.
“This is a treatment that has been used … to try to make facilities like this fit into overall landscape,” Kirk said.
But some residents sneered at that idea. “I’m not fooled by it when I see [the cell tower] by the Country Store,” said Luanne Waller, who lives off Old Powers Ferry Road.
Verizon’s proposal will go before the Planning Commission June 17. City Council is set to take a final vote on July 20.
“Sandy Springs doesn’t have a position on this yet,” said Director of Community Development Nancy Leathers who led the May meeting, the second public gathering in the city’s 120-day zoning process. Verizon seeks the city’s approval for a use permit that would allow the location and operation of the cell tower.
“Here we are just a neighborhood,” said Clark, claiming that Verizon employs more than 200,000 people and has a team of around 630 lawyers. “It’s almost a battle of David versus the Goliath. We hope to be successful.”