The Troup County Commission is facing a lawsuit from a cellphone tower company over not voting on a request to place a tower on Vernon Ferry Road last month.
American Tower and AT&T have filed in United State Court a suit against the county and commissioners to grant the companies’ request to place a 109-foot tower at 313 Vernon Ferry Road. The request met with opposition from residents surrounding the proposed site and ham radio operators worried that the tower would interfere with a local operator’s relay station.
The county held three public hearings on the matter, the last on Aug. 7, which lasted more than two hours, which was to end with the commissioners’ vote. Commissioner Morris Jones made a motion to continue the request, but no commissioners supported the motion. No commissioners made any other motions to approve or deny the motion, which left the motion dead.
At the time, County Attorney Jerry Willis said that with no vote, the request dies and is not approved. Friday morning, Willis said the commission is required to vote on every action that comes before it, so he recommended the commission put the request back on the agenda for a final decision.
The commission will hold a fourth and expected final public hearing on the matter Monday morning in the commission chambers, where it will vote on the matter.
“To ensure the proper amount of transparency, we’re going to start the process over,” said County Commission Chairman Ricky Wolfe.
However, the lawsuit contends that the county violated a 150-day time frame from the date of application and also failed to give a notice within 10 days of its reason for denial of the application.
Willis said Friday that since the commissioners didn’t vote, they actually did not deny the application, so have not violated the written-notice rule. Brandon Johns, county senior deputy building official, said that the 150-day “shot clock” time frame was paused after American Tower filed the application in March and David Dyer, the county’s consultant on cellphone towers, said the application was not complete.
The “shot clock” was paused until April 26, when the application was re-submitted. By the county’s count, Johns said it has until Thursday before its 150-day period is actually up.
County staff and Dyer had recommended the tower. The board of planning and zoning appeals recommended denial, likely based on objections from residents and concerns of aesthetics, Johns said.
“They’re saying our own consultant recommended it and our staff recommended it, and saying there was no legitimate reason for denying the request … and they’re saying we didn’t give them a 10-day notice,” Willis said. “But we did write and say that we took no action, and they say we let the 150-day shot clock run out, but we think they’re wrong there.”
Willis estimated it could cost the county at least $5,000 to $50,000 to fight the suit locally, but could be substantially more tried in the Newnan division of United State Court.
“Do we have any substantial basis for denying (the request),” Willis asked commissioners. “That’s the kicker.”