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Federal telecommunications law vs. local zoning

A township in Michigan may have to contend with AT&T in federal court over placement of a cell phone tower. AT&T has filed suit in U.S. District court against Ada Township after eight years of negotiations that failed to produce an agreement over where a tower could be placed within the township. The suit was prompted by Ada Township's moratorium on cell phone towers. AT&T asserts that the moratorium violates federal telecommunications law.

According to AT&T Mobility, the Federal Communications Act requires that wireless telephone service be available in order to ensure safety of residents and protection of their property. The township and the telecommunications provider have a history of real estate transaction disputes. They had previously discussed construction of a cell phone tower in various places within Ada Township, including the top of a water tower. Some of these discussions brought about the necessity of negotiating with another party, the local school district.

If the U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids decides to hear the case, it will have to weigh a federal law that provides for safety against local zoning laws. The final decision in the case could have implications in other jurisdictions in the United States that have enacted cell phone tower moratoria. Zoning disputes involving cell phone towers often arise over aesthetics. Many property owners consider cell phone towers unsightly and think they would therefore diminish the value of their property.

Real estate litigation can be extremely complex and involve many conflicting issues. Any person or business that has plans for real estate land use may want to consider discussing these issues with a local real estate attorney to become aware of local zoning laws.

Source:, "AT&T sues Ada Township over cellphone tower moratorium, placement", John Agar, December 27, 2013

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