Council Approves Wireless Structure Ordinance Changes

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City council voted Tuesday to amend the ordinance regarding wireless telecommunication facilities.

The item passed unanimously 6-0, with councilwoman Leslie Daigle recusing herself for an economic conflict because she works in the industry.

The ordinance addresses the regulation and location of telecommunication facilities within the city.

Staff has been working on regulations as they concern telecommunication facilities since March 2012, when the city council initiated the amendment to the city’s code, explained the city’s Community Development Director Kim Brandt.

Principal planner Jim Campbell and assistant city attorney Leonie Mulvihill have worked extensively with the planning commission, community members and industry experts on the issue, Brandt said.

The existing ordinance was adopted in 2002, explained Campbell. Times have changed and Tuesday’s presentation was for a more comprehensive, updated ordinance, he said.

The existing regulations in Title 15 have been completely rescinded and new regulations are contained in the zoning code. Impact to public views would require assessment and screening requirements have been updated. The location possibilities and height regulations won’t change.

The ordinance will have a second reading, scheduled for Jan. 28. It will go into effect 30 days after the second reading was approved.

The facilities will be broken down into five classes. The first class, screened/stealth, would be reviewed and approved by staff and only needs zoning clearance. The second and third, visible and public right-of-way, would both have to be approved by the zoning administrator and would require minor use permits. The fourth, freestanding structures, would go before the Planning Commission and require a conditional use permit. The fifth, temporary, could also be approved by the zoning administrator and a limited term permit would be required.

The timeline is relatively the same for facilities in classes two through four headed to either the zoning administrator or the planning commission, Campbell explained. The cost, however, is different. The minor use permit has a flat fee, while the conditional use permit is charged hourly.

Public hearings would be required for all facilities except those in class one (screened/stealth).

“One of the objectives of the ordinance was to try to provide additional public notice for some of these facilities because I think we had a couple of facilities that went in without notice and I think that caused a little bit of concern for some residents,” Campbell noted.

Size of the facilities was another concern of residents.

“Size does matter,” said resident Paul O’Boyle.

The review process should be dependent on the size of the facility, he said, but the ordinance is treating them all the same way. If the same process is used for all facilities, despite their size, wireless companies will go for the bigger structures, he argued.

He suggested using small cell technology and defining it in the ordinance.

“We absolutely encourage through this ordinance the industry to design facilities that are small. I don’t think in any way we are trying to encourage the big, huge towers with 900 systems,” Mulvihill countered. “We’re hopeful that that’s the way the ordinance will be implemented.”

The planning commission considered creating a different process for smaller facilities, but ultimately decided that in doing so that might create a competitive advantage for that type of technology, Campbell explained. They didn’t want the ordinance to give any kind of preferential treatment for one type of technology over another, he added

“We’re trying to treat them all fairly by having them all go through the same process regardless of size,” he noted.

Carver Chiu, on behalf of Crown Castle International, an independent owner and operator of shared wireless communications and broadcast infrastructures, said they are not advocating a one size fits all approach or trying to favor one technology over another.

“But, I think given the constraints that we’re finding in the industry and trying to provide coverage and capacity to your core residential communities -the areas that are typically the most safeguarded and the most difficult to get facilities into now- I think that we’re going to see the emergence of small cell technology,” he said. “So, with that in mind, we’d like to see the ordinance embrace small cell solutions and encourage them.”

Chiu gave several examples of the difference in scale of various sized facilities.

The examples were compelling, said councilman Petros, and he hoped the industry would continue to along those lines.

But, in those examples the reason for the minor use permit wasn’t the technology or the size of the device though, Petros explained, but that they were being placed in the public right-of-way.

Longtime resident George Schroeder supported the ordinance.

Cell phones are the primary phone for most people now, he said, and there are still areas in the city where calls are often dropped. It’s a public safety issue, he said. People need service in case of an emergency, he explained, like an accident or late night car trouble.

“I believe it’s a public safety issue… I think we just need to get these cell towers in,” he said, “in a non-obtrusive way.”

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