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Residents worried about proposed cell towers

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Two communities in southern Gwinnett are concerned that proposed cell towers will cause their property values, already down because of the economy, to drop even further.

"Our major concern is property values," Wayne Warburton said of a proposal on River Road near Lilburn. "When you pull into our driveway, the first thing you are going to see is the cell tower."

Commissioners heard presentations on the two, which are both proposed to increase T-Mobile reception in the area, but asked for more time before making a decision.

But they said court rulings have overturned attempts to deny the towers in the past.

"It seems the courts are beginning to narrow our discretion on this," said Commissioner Bert Nasuti, who represents the Lilburn area. "The percentage of these that have withstood court challenges in not very high."

For the River Road tower, which is proposed to be nearly 100 feet tall, neighbors are concerned the tower would destroy the residential area.

Jim Aube said he and his wife decided to live in the area "because it was green and it was beautiful. We need to keep it that way."

Michael Sullivan, a local attorney who represented T-Mobile at the hearing, read from several reports that showed cell towers do not affect property values, and he showed pictures from other communities where the towers are evident over luxurious homes.

"I understand this is an emotional issue," Sullivan said. "The idea that this is foreign to Gwinnett County ... is simply not borne out by the facts."

But Jim Simpson, who lives near a proposed tower on Annistown Road, said that argument doesn't make sense.

Simpson chose to buy a home along a Georgia Power transmission line, but he said the neighbors would not have an option about the new tower.

"That's a powerful investment," in a home, he said. "I don't want any more erosion of my property value."

Sullivan argued that the two locations were the best to bridge service gaps, and he said balloon tests showed the towers would have minimal intrusion.

The River Road tower is proposed to look like a pine tree, but Sullivan said the 133-foot Annistown Road pole would not be disguised, since it is near the Georgia Power towers.

There, the tower is on property owned by Annistown Road Baptist Church that is zoned for office use.

It is very close to Annistown Elementary School's playground, which caused more concern for the community. But Sullivan said the towers are designed to collapse in on themselves and will emit a very low frequency of radio waves.

Commissioners said their authority on regulating cell towers has been diminished by court cases over the years, pointing to a specific case on Cole Road in which the decision to deny the tower was overturned.

"We have very limited scope," said Commissioner Mike Beaudreau, who represents the Centerville area, where the Annistown Road tower is proposed. "We need some legally defensible reasons to turn it down."

Both proposals were tabled to Nov. 17.