State says Hulsey Yard antenna would not impact historic sites; local groups disagree

By John Ruch

The state agreed that a 70-foot-tall railroad antenna would have “no adverse effect” on Cabbagetown and other adjacent historic areas. But several local groups disagree.

The proposed antenna tower would rise within CSX’s Hulsey Yard freight facility. The site is approximately 220 feet from the historic Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts and adjacent to the Cabbagetown and Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Districts, among other resources. This triggers the “Section 106 Review”, a historic impacts report named for part of the Federal Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Final comment will come from the Federal Advisory Board on Historic Preservation for a decision of the Federal Communications Commission.

A CSX consultant claimed last month that the antenna would have “no negative impact” on historic resources.

On September 13, the Georgia Historic Preservation Division (HPD) agreed, stating in a letter that there would be “no adverse effects…due to the location and existing visual intrusions.”

The find is disputed by conservationists and the organization that helps run the nearby Oakland Cemetery.

The non-profit organizations Easements Atlanta and Atlanta Preservation Center (APC) have stated in official comment letters that the height and scale of the antenna will create negative impacts and that there is nothing similar in this area, despite the industrial use of Hulsey Yard.

Richard Harker, executive director of the Oakland Historical Foundation, wrote in a comment letter that the no-impact findings are “not correct.” He said the antenna would “create a significant and dramatic negative visual impact on the historic cemetery…”. He also said he was “disappointed” with the project consultant’s lack of awareness of his organization.

The find was called inaccurate by Jacob Elsas of the Patch Works Art & History Center in Cabbagetown. In a comment letter, he noted that the antenna would be in the direct line of sight of residents of the historic factory and that nothing should rival the height of its historic chimneys.

The city’s Atlanta Urban Design Commission has yet to review the proposal, according to the planning department.

APC also complained in an email that the HPD issued its opinion before the end of a comment period and before the other groups had a chance to make their positions known. However, a spokesperson for Georgia’s Ministry of Community Affairs, which oversees the HPD, said the federal government reviews all notices and the order in which they arrive is “not relevant”.

The current antenna proposal follows a similar but larger proposal proposed in April for the nearby CSX right-of-way, right next to the cemetery and mill. The plan appeared to include an antenna for CSX’s own use as well as antenna space leased to cellphone companies. A company called CitySwitch is partnering with CSX and Norfolk Southern Corp. to erect such towers on railway rights-of-way. His website previously offered dozens of tour sites in Atlanta and Georgia, but this map was removed after SaportaReport cover. The cell tower project was heavily criticized by many experts and HPD, leading CitySwitch to back down and consider “alternatives”.

The new Hulsey Yard antenna plan does not involve CitySwitch or cell phone services. CSX says it would only be for internal rail communications.