Chairman’s letter spells out county’s intent to build 911 tower in The Orchard

The audience at Monday night's Habersham County Commission meeting applauded with Orchard resident Richard Rumble said, "The county is so rural that there is no reason for a single tower to be within 1500 feet of a residential area, a school, or daycare." (Jerry Neace/

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include new information contained in a letter Habersham County Commission Chair Ty Akins sent to The Orchard Property Owners Association. Now Habersham obtained a copy of the letter through an open records request filed with the county attorney.

It was standing room only at the Habersham County Commission meeting Monday night as residents of The Orchard Golf & Country Club crowded in to protest plans to install a radio tower in their subdivision.

The county wants to build a 190-foot 911 radio tower on a tract of land it owns between Cider Ridge and Bear Gap Road inside the gated private golf community.

RELATED County manager outlines next steps in Orchard 911 tower project

Public health and safety concerns raised

Richard Rumble was the first to voice his opposition to the plan. He told commissioners his main concern is safety. Rumble said the FCC is operating on outdated standards established in 1996 related to radio wave emissions and their effects on children.

He pointed to a settlement in a lawsuit reached in August 2021 with the Children’s Health Defense. The organization had filed over 11,000 pages of documentation from doctors and experts that demonstrated the negative effects of radio waves.

(Jerry Neace/

According to Rumble, the FCC hasn’t updated its standards in nearly 30 years. He said over 20 countries had banned the placement of this type of tower within 300-500 meters of a residential area or school.

“I am in support of this system overall; we need it. I understand the position this board is in. The current system is aging and on its way out. You can’t repair it, and that’s a public safety hazard,” said Rumble. “But putting this tower in a residential neighborhood, and subsequent for the other towers near residences, and I believe there is one near a school. We need to evaluate that. The county is so rural that there is no reason for a single tower to be within 1500 feet of a residential area, a school, or daycare.”

At that, the audience burst into applause.

To illustrate his point about the potential safety hazards, Rumble pointed to a Dekalb County lawsuit that forced T-Mobile to abandon plans to build towers on school property. He also said the outdated FCC standards are based on an adult male, adding a child can absorb two-and-a-half times more radiation than an adult.

“I think you all are misinformed on what safe actually is,” he told the five-member board.

This is where the county wants to build the tower – on a lot that it owns, surrounded by vacant lots between Cider Ridge and Bear Gap Road. An abandoned, low-lying Demorest water tank sits on the property now. (Jerry Neace/

‘I hope I matter’

Another concerned resident, David Perry, agreed with Rumble.

Perry grew up in Baldwin and moved away after high school. Years later, he and his wife returned to Habersham County to raise their children. He shared with the commissioners some of his life story to dispel comments he says he’s heard from people stating, “‘I don’t know anybody that lives in The Orchard. They’re all a bunch of rich folks. They don’t matter.'”

“Well, now you know somebody that lives in The Orchard, and I’m not rich,” he said.

“I hope I matter. At least to somebody,” said Perry before adding, “I believe the tower is going in the wrong place and will do us great harm.”

Perry expressed his concerns about the possible health effects. He also expressed concerns over the tower’s appearance and how it would affect property values.

In another crowd-pleasing moment, Perry told commissioners he came home to Habersham County to “get away from stuff like this.”

Letter to property owners

A letter sent to The Orchard Property Owners Association dated April 20 and signed by Habersham County Commission Chair Ty Akins states the lot in question is not subject to The Orchard’s covenants. Local landowner Virgil Lovell conveyed the property deed to the county in 1999, and the land is already in public use.

Demorest built a water tank on the property years ago in an attempt to improve water pressure in the subdivision. Perry says the water tank failed because it was “inadequately built” and leaked. Although no longer in use, the tank still sits on the lot.

In his letter to the property association, Akins said the county could use its right of eminent domain to forge ahead with the tower’s construction, however, he argued that isn’t necessary under state law.

The letter cites a case, Anderson v. Lynch, in which a property owner in a subdivision sought to sell his lot to Fulton County for use as a public road. The state supreme court upheld the lower court’s decision in his favor saying that covenants do not convey property rights to surrounding landowners.

In other words, Habersham can do with its property as it pleases, and surrounding property owners can’t stop it.

Jim Smith was the only audience member who publicly spoke in favor of the 911 tower being built in The Orchard. (Jerry Neace/

Voice of support

The only person present who spoke in support of the tower was Jim Smith – a former emergency services worker and current sheriff’s office chaplain. Smith lives in The Orchard and helped broker the land deal for Fire Station 17 on Orchard Road.

Smith claimed Rumble and Perry “spoke out of fear.” He described his own fear as an emergency worker who has to deal with spotty communication while on calls. He said in those situations, it’s easy to go to the wrong address.

“My fear would be not being able to respond to that 11-year-old son if I don’t have communication with the cell tower,” he said.

“I don’t know much about cell towers, but I know they have to be strategically placed. It might be an inconvenience. It might be an eye sore, but when you dial 911 and the sheriff’s office shows up….” His voice trailed off briefly as the audience interrupted his comments.

“I am in favor of the cell tower only from a testimony for many, many years of serving in public safety and knowing the importance of being able to communicate, being able to help the citizens in a way that is life-saving and property saving,” he concluded.

Perry earlier suggested the county place the new 911 tower next door to Station 17, which sits roughly a mile-and-a-half east of the subdivision on Orchard Road.

A decision ‘not taken lightly’

Habersham County Commissioner Bruce Palmer (Jerry Neace/

Near the end of the meeting, Commissioner Bruce Palmer waded into the discussion and said he supports putting the tower in The Orchard. He explained that there are areas within the subdivision that do not have radio and cell service, and first responders have to reposition within The Orchard to get service.

He said there are towers in other residential neighborhoods.

Last year, Habersham County E-911 fielded 134 E-911 calls for service in The Orchard, Palmer said. This year, emergency dispatch has received approximately 56 calls from the subdivision.

Palmer said if there were a need for a radio tower where he lives, he would have no problem with it – even though his grandchildren visit him regularly.

As for property values, Palmer said that if someone wanted to buy a piece of property and knew that there was inadequate emergency service communication, he couldn’t imagine it being an easy sale.

He held firm to the commission’s decision to construct the tower in The Orchard “because it’s the best place for it to go” and will provide the best coverage. He said the county owns property near GA-255 Alternate and looked at putting a tower there, but it didn’t provide adequate coverage.

“It was not a decision that was taken lightly by any of us on the commission,” he said.

Akins says county ‘will proceed’ with construction

Rebutting Perry’s comments, Chairman Akins addressed the crowd during the September 16 meeting.

Habersham County Commission Chair Ty Akins (Jerry Neace/

“I have never heard anyone on this commission or anyone on the staff say that nobody in The Orchard mattered and it’s just a bunch of rich people that live up there. I’ve never heard that comment uttered in my presence, and I just wanted to say that unequivocally. I actually do know quite a few people up there. We didn’t make that decision lightly, nor have I heard anyone, a member of the county, say anything derogatory about the people that live in The Orchard at any time,” Akins stressed.

While commissioners did not take any formal action during the meeting regarding the 911 tower, Akins’ letter clearly outlines their intent.

“It is obvious that HC (Habersham County) has the right to construct the tower without condemnation. This parcel is uniquely situated in that (a) HC owns the lot in question; (b) the warranty deed in favor of HC was for public use and (c) HC has used the lot for public purposes for more than 20 years.”

“Consequently, HC will proceed to construct the necessary tower on parcel 20 for the public health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Habersham County,” Akins wrote.

We want commissioners to follow the ‘same moral code’

After the meeting, Now Habersham spoke to two other Orchard residents who remain adamantly opposed to the commission’s plans.

“For many, many years, it was never a concern about communications, and now, when our community doesn’t want it and is willing to take the risk to not have communications, they have to stuff it down our throats,” said Demetri Betzios. “Why is that? We don’t want it. We don’t have a concern about communication. Put the tower somewhere else.”

“My understanding is that the county owns a lot in the Orchard just like I do. I am bound by the covenants and restrictions of the homeowners association to get their approval to do anything on my property, from building a fence to putting up a mobile basketball hoop in my driveway. Yet, the county intends to use their lot and build a radio tower and bypass the Architectural Review Board (ARB),” said Kerry Anderson.

Anderson says she simply wants the county commission to “do what is right and respect private property by submitting their plans to the same ARB board that I have to submit my plans to and let that process play out.”

“I am simply asking them to act the way any citizen would have to act and live by that same moral code that we all have to live by out here every day in the real world.”

Commissioners Bruce Harkness, Jimmy Tench, and Dustin Mealor did not publicly comment on the matter.


County manager outlines ‘next steps’ for Orchard 911 tower project

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