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The Athens City Council conducted a public hearing and a first reading on an amendment to an ordinance regulating communications towers on Monday.

The change was requested to allow construction of an AT&T tower on a property in the city.

"I know we really have bad AT&T service here," said Mayor Monte Montgomery. "It really helps the connectivity of our town to have that here."

Under the existing ordinance, no  commercial antenna support structure can be closer to any residential district boundary line or residential dwelling than a distance equal to twice the height of the support structure. The change changes the regulation to one time the radius of the collapse zone as designed by a professional engineer.

The change was discussed recently at a meeting of the planning and zoning commission which recommended council approval.

"The ordinance before was pretty rigid," Montgomery said. "It's pretty hard to deal with, so I do like what's being brought forward."

Any future tower application must come with a specific use permit. A special use permit allows a landowner to obtain a tract of land for a use that doesn’t fall directly under the permitted usage for that specifically zoned area.

"What that allows is for each application to be considered on a case by case basis," said Director of Development Services Audrey Sloan. "Surrounding property owners within 200 feet would be notified and allowed to respond or protest."

The amendment will potentially allow towers to be built on a wider range of properties, Sloan said.

City Manager Elizabeth Borstad said the one time the radius collapse zone would be the minimum allowed.

"If there was an area where you wanted a setback that's maybe one-and-a-half times the collapse zone that could written into the SUP," Borstad said.

The collapse zone must be fully within the property on which the tower is being built.

"The way we think of it is when an antenna fails it falls over," Montgomery said. "What they're saying is when it fails it has breaking points in it. It comes down like the collapsing of a building in New York."