The Sedona Planning and Zoning Commission is inadvertently on a path to have the longest meeting in the city’s history.
The original June meeting was extended to August and has been extended again, likely in October. Now, this would be commendable if this meeting involved an issue over which the city had actual control, but the fact is the commission is trying to find a narrow fix to an issue which the city has almost zero power over: The potential placement of cellphone towers on public rights-of-way.
The Federal Communications Commission has determined that cellphone companies can build towers as needed in public spaces to improve the communications network for their customers. The Arizona State Legislature went a step further, limiting the ability of municipalities to restrict where towers can be built.
The Sedona Planning & Zoning Commission is nobly working on what will be a marginal victory at best, listing locations that the city would prefer incoming cell towers would be built. However, in the worst-case scenario, if a cell company determines none of the proposed locations are viable, it could legally build a tower in the public right-of-way of the virulent anti-tower activist and over the objections of both P&Z and the City Council.
What the Wireless Master Plan does do, however, is suggest to these companies the preferred locations for towers. We can hope that incoming companies will use the plan as a guideline and build where the city suggests to be good corporate citizens.
The city and P&Z find themselves between a rock and a hard place. No resident wants a cell tower in the front yard, yet there is little commissioners or council members can do other than make the preferred sites as appealing as possible in lieu of other sites that might serve customers better but irk neighbors.
Nevertheless, the finer points P&Z is asking city staff to research are seeming inconsequential to the final product. If the adjustments P&Z suggest are too restrictive, a company may opt out of the proposed sites and decide to forgo them and simply build wherever it wants.
Thus, P&Z needs to send to council a Wireless Master Plan that may not be what commissioners necessarily want, but will offer sites more attractive than public side streets and may save headaches later.
The City Council should also look at the plan as a necessary evil that will help the council sitting on the dais in 2020 or 2027 avoid an influx of angry residents demanding the city stop a new tower which they would be powerless to stop. Hopefully the October meeting will be the final installment in this long process and we can move on to bigger issues.