While the Metro Council passed a 5G cell tower ordinance in late 2020 to regulate the look and placement of 5G cell towers around Baton Rouge, a case that predates the passage of the ordinance is headed to the First Circuit Court of Appeal.
The case, filed in June 2020, pits AT&T Mobility against the city-parish and involves the installation of a 5G cell tower on Antioch Road in the middle of Long Farm Village.
Though it has gone largely unnoticed outside of legal circles, the case illustrates ongoing concerns about the placement of the controversial towers and the struggle between cell providers, local governments that regulate them and the property owners caught somewhere in between.
The case centers on the city-parish revocation of a permit originally granted to AT&T Mobility in 2018 to install small cell towers at 55 locations in public rights of way around the parish. Among the locations was a site at 9551 Antioch Road in Long Farm Village, directly in front of developer Russell Mosely’s new office building.
Though Antioch Road is a public street, it was donated to the city-parish by Mosely in 2014 and, as such, has certain stipulations and restrictions, according to court documents filed by the city-parish.
What’s more, Mosely’s Planned Use Development map expressly states that AT&T’s service in Long Farm would be provided “via underground conduits and wiring,” according to court documents filed by Mosely, who joined the suit as an interested third party.
Moseley informed AT&T of the restrictions three times in late 2018 and offered the company alternative locations for the cell tower, according to court documents filed by his attorney. But AT&T declined to negotiate the relocation of the cell tower and went ahead with installation “in clear violation of the PUD,” the documents say.
Last March, the city-parish sent AT&T a revocation notice for the permit at Antioch Road on the grounds it had been incorrectly issued. In June, AT&T filed suit, asking the 19th Judicial District Court to block the revocation from going into effect.
In its own court filings, AT&T argued that the permit had been legally issued by the city-parish, that Antioch Road was not covered by any special stipulations and that the revocation of the permit had been arbitrary and capricious.
“The city parish revocation of the permit, more than 18 months after its issuance and only after AT&T has invested tens of thousands of dollars installing its equipment at the subject location, is arbitrary and capricious and violates AT&T’s vested property rights,” the company’s documents say.
Last October, Judge Donald Johnson ruled in favor of the city-parish, saying, in his judgement, that the permit was legally revoked and was neither arbitrary nor capricious.
In late December, AT&T filed a motion for suspensive appeal, which blocks the ruling from going into effect until after the case has been heard by the First Circuit Court of Appeals. No hearing date has been set yet.
Mosely declines to comment citing ongoing litigation and an attorney for AT&T did not return a call seeking comment before this morning’s deadline.
But Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel says the new 5G ordinance passed by the Metro Council last December should go a long way toward alleviating such disputes in the future.
“Hopefully, we will avoid issues like this in the future that have caused great concern for property owners and neighborhoods in general,” he says.