Monday the US Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of T-Mobile South v. City of Roswell, a case interpreting the “in writing” requirement of the Federal Telecommunications Act.
T-Mobile South submitted an application to build a 108-foot cell tower on a vacant lot in a residential neighborhood in the city of Roswell, Georgia (the respondent). The company proposed a tower designed to look like a pine tree, branches and all, though this one would have stood at least twenty feet taller than surrounding trees. The city’s zoning department found that the application met the requirements in relevant city ordinances, and recommended approval of the application subject to several conditions. The city then held a public hearing at which a T-Mobile South representative and members of the public spoke. Five of the six members of the city council then made statements, with four expressing concerns and one of those four formally moving to deny the application. That motion passed unanimously. Two days later, the city sent T-Mobile South a letter stating that its application had been denied. The letter did not provide reasons for the denial, but did explain how to obtain the minutes from the hearing. At that time, only “brief minutes” were available; the city council did not approve detailed minutes recounting the council members’ statements until its next meeting, twenty-six days later.
47 U.S.C. § 332(c)(7)(B)(iii) – a provision of the Federal Telecommunications Act – requires that state or local government decisions denying wireless infrastructure requests “shall be in writing and supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record.” The question in front of the Supreme Court is “Whether a document from a state or local government stating that an application has been denied, but providing no reasons whatsoever for the denial, can satisfy the Communications Act’s ‘in writing’ requirement.”
A recap of Monday’s arguments by Miriam Seifter with SCOTUSblog can be found here. From this summary the reader is left with the impression that the city of Roswell was not particularly interested in standing up for the interests of other local governments in how it focused its argument.