The East Baton Rouge Planning Commission on Monday denied T-Mobile's request for a new cellphone tower at Sherwood Middle Academic Magnet School.
Sherwood Forest residents had called in to planning staff and voiced concerns to the commissioners during the meeting, saying they worried about their health and home values.
While the commissioners sided with residents, they approved another, taller T-Mobile tower at Glen Oaks High School later in the meeting after no one showed up to speak against it.
In Sherwood Forest, the telecommunications company sought to build a tower at least 85 feet high and made to look like a flag pole.
Commissioner Todd Sterling suggested it would be wise to table the item for a future meeting so the school district could send someone to help sort things out, but Planning Director Frank Duke told him not to hold his breath.
"They have never sent anyone here," he said.
The Planning Commission was to decide whether to rezone a strip of land on campus from residential to rural, which would have allowed construction of the tower.
"I don't want to be here tonight, but I have to be to protect my property. … This stinks of spot zoning," resident Timothy Hill said.
T-Mobile agent Heidi Nelson tried to assuage the concerns of the Sherwood Forest residents. Studies have shown that towers themselves don't affect property values. If anything, the improved cell coverage would raise them, she said.
Furthermore, Federal Communications Commission studies have found that exposure to radiation from the towers is far less than dangerous amounts, Nelson continued. She brought 28-page packets for neighbors that spoke to those issues.
However, questions still remained about what precisely the tower would look like and how imposing it would be. T-Mobile was seeking a minimum height of 85 feet, and Nelson indicated the company would be happy with such a tower.
However, she left open the possibility that T-Mobile may seek an extra 35 feet so they could lease space to other telecommunication companies, but to residents, the height issue appeared to be a bait and switch.
Either way, the tower would be disguised as a flagpole, and that shape wouldn't allow any perches for birds, Nelson said.
However, there were other unknowns: the School Board hadn't signed off on the specific terms of the deal, and the company hadn't chosen a final site on campus for the tower, though Nelson said they were mindful of keeping it away from student areas.
"There's too many moving parts," Sterling said.
He suggested deferring the matter but pulled his motion after Duke told him not to expect the School Board to send a representative.
Neighbors implored the company and the commissioners to consider other sites in the area that aren't on school grounds.
Ultimately, they prevailed, and the commission unanimously denied the rezoning application. T-Mobile representatives declined to discuss other potential tower sites after the vote.
Later in the meeting, the company asked to build another tower at Glen Oaks High. Sterling asked if the two proposals were any different; Duke explained that essentially the only difference was that the Sherwood site needed to be rezoned, while the Glen Oaks site just sought for permission for a 120-foot tower with a 420-foot setback.
No one sent opposition to the planning staff's office, Duke said, and no one came to speak against the proposal.
The commission voted the proposal through. Sterling voted against it.