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With just four of seven commissioners at the meeting — and a desire for more information — the Sedona Planning and Zoning Commission delayed action on making a recommendation on the Wireless Communications Plan.

After three hours of discussion — nearly an hour of which came from the public — the commissioners voted on Thursday, June 1, to continue the meeting at another date.

City Attorney Robert Pickels said since it will be a continuation and not a new meeting, it will be for discussion among staff and the commissions only. There will be no additional public comment.

Assistant City Manager Karen Osburn opened things by recapping the previous meeting that was also led by CityScape consultants and explained how the city is approaching this issue.

“Despite speculation over the city’s motives for undertaking this effort, it was done in an attempt to be proactive and get in front of and directing the wireless industry as they build out their networks in Sedona,” she said. “This plan is developed to ensure that we get improved service while also protecting Sedona’s visual beauty.”

Osburn went on to say that staff knows that the wireless industry will need to expand its coverage in Sedona and at some point deploy new wireless technology.

The city has heard from some residents claiming that their service is adequate and therefore new infrastructure isn’t needed. But she said they have also heard from other residents and businesses concerned about the lack of coverage, speeds and capacity.

“CityScape did the propagation mapping and their analyses found that there are existing gaps, and as demand continues to increase there will be more need for additional capacity,” she said. “And then there are the new technologies that are also coming, and the industry will want to bring in that infrastructure as well.”

The wireless plan is an effort to allow that infrastructure to come into Sedona with the least negative impact to the community, Osburn said. It’s also there to ensure the infrastructure is well concealed and fits into the landscape as best as possible to “preserve the beauty of Sedona.”

“We have to allow the infrastructure to come in,” she said. “We don’t have to put it on city property, but the federal government says we have to allow it if the carriers need it to provide their service. So if we don’t select any sites where the providers can go, they will negotiate leases with private property owners and they’ll go where they decide to go and we take our chances. Those may be appropriate locations or they may not be.”

She added, “We also know that as landlord we can dictate much stricter terms on where they are built, what types are built, heights and size, and what they look like than if we are simply serving as the regulatory agency, just reacting to an application coming in.”

Osburn stressed that the city has no applications and hasn’t even talked to any providers about any of these sites.

“The city is in no way driving these things being built — we are just trying to get ahead of the providers coming in,” she said. “Facilities are only built if cell phone companies see a need for them in those particular locations. Maybe they will want to go in any of these locations, maybe not. CityScape did the best they could to make educated predictions about where providers will want and need to go, but none of us have a crystal ball.”

Since the last meeting, Pickels spent time trying to further understand and obtain clarification on the new House Bill 2365, which was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey in March.

The law says that wireless providers can place towers in the city’s rights of way with no public process, and the city must give them a permit to do this within 20 days of them submitting a complete application. The poles or towers can be 40 to 50 feet tall with an automatic ability to extend an additional 10 feet after they are built.

“Bear in mind our city rights of way are typically 50 feet wide,” Osburn said. “If 24 feet of that is street that means 13 feet on either side of the street is fair game for wireless towers.”

Nearly 20 members of the audience spoke during public comment. And like the previous meeting on this topic expressed their concerns with the most frequent being health, opposition to a proposed tower at Sugarloaf Trailhead, a potential drop in property value and esthetics.

A city report states that it’s been since 2003 that the wireless master plan last underwent a comprehensive update. 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 current federal law. Federal law mandates that cities, counties and states abide by the following guidelines:

  • 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 government’s 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.

CityScape’s Susan Rabold said to date they have found that within Sedona an additional 17 to 25 towers of varying sizes will be needed to keep up with standards and demand over the next 10 years. There are 22 towers in or near the perimeter of the city’s boundaries.


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