More than 60 residents filled the Sedona City Council Chambers with many expressing their concerns about the city’s proposed master wireless communication plan.
While most of the city’s highly-attended meetings is at the city council level, this came during the Thursday, May 18, Sedona Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, which was for discussion only.
However, a public hearing will be held on Thursday, June 1, at 3:30 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall. That’s when P&Z is scheduled to make a recommendation to City Council on the wireless plan.
As part of the master plan development process, the national consulting firm of CityScape provided detailed information about the existing wireless communication infrastructure. Consultants also identified those city-owned properties that may be suitable for possible additional wireless infrastructure, a city report states.
Those initially identified city-owned properties were evaluated by CityScape using propagation mapping to determine locations where wireless carriers are likely to want or need future infrastructure.
“The city is attempting to select locations that minimize impacts on residential areas and Sedona’s natural beauty,” the report states. “Siting on city-owned property gives the community more say in the tower and equipment size and aesthetic, because as landlords the city can dictate much stricter terms than it could simply through regulatory powers it may have for other property locations.”
CityScape representative Susan Rabold led the 90-minute presentation and said throughout that while the city’s hands are somewhat tied by federal regulations, it doesn’t mean it has no say on the issue.
“As the land owner you really have the control to micromanage how that site looks and where it [tower] would go,” she said.
Twenty members of the audience spoke during the public forum, all but one of whom was opposed to there being additional towers. Those opposed cited health concerns, how the towers would obstruct views, having one at the Sugarloaf Trailhead and property value costs. Others spoke about how they didn’t feel there was a need for additional towers, at least not in their neighborhoods.
The report goes on to state that it’s been since 2003 that the wireless master plan last underwent a comprehensive plan.
In the 14 years since, there have been significant changes to wireless technologies and federal legislation. The update to the ordinance is needed to reflect those changes and ensure that the city’s codes are reflective of modern technology and federal law.
Federal law mandates that cities, counties and states abide by the following:
- Must allow for the carriers to deploy their systems.
- Must act expeditiously in these requests.
- Must treat providers equally by providing equal access to “functionally equivalent services.”
- Local governments’ land development standards may not supersede or undermine areas of federal jurisdiction.
- Enable federal government to use federal property, rights-of-way and easements for leasing for new telecommunications infrastructure.
- Requirements for tower lighting and markings are exclusively regulated by the FAA/FCC.
“As we get closer to 5G [fifth generation of phones] they [cell phone industry] are going to want to get into residential areas,” she said. “But because they can’t get into residential areas, that’s why they’ve started trying to use the rights of way. It’s also cheaper for them to deploy. This is what you’re up against.
“One way to address this is to promote your properties as the first tier and put the burden on them to demonstrate why they can’t follow that.”
Rabold said to date they have found that within Sedona an additional 17 to 25 towers will be needed to keep up with standards and demand over the next 10 years. Currently there are 22 towers of varying size in or near the perimeter of the city’s boundaries.
While by law the city can’t refuse a cellular tower being built on public lands, it can at least have a say in the matter.
Rabold said the community benefits by using the public lands to house towers because the city can decide what that site looks like and hold cell phone companies accountable to develop it where the city wants it within that particular piece of property and how it will be screened, the height and color.
In that case, she said the city is in the driver’s seat. During a council meeting last September, City Manager Justin Clifton stressed that increasing the number of cell towers is not something the city is actively pursuing. But instead, he said it’s a matter of preparing for if or when it’s needed.
“The purpose of this is, if you start with the premise that we have limited control for all the reasons discussed and if you accept that it’s probably going to happen, then the idea is to have a little more control,” he said. “The question is, would you rather have a request that meets some previously-vetted analysis or a request that just meets whatever standard the provider selected and whatever property owner they negotiated with? We’d rather have the one we vetted. Our driving force is to be better prepared in an environment where we already have limited control or influence.”