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The public will have at least one more opportunity to hear discussion regarding the city’s proposed Wireless Master Plan before it moves onto the Sedona City Council.

On June 1, the Sedona Planning and Zoning Commission spent nearly three hours discussing the plan but since only four of the seven members were in attendance, they chose to continue the meeting — and a potential decision on it — at  a future date.

The continuation of that meeting will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 1, at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers. As pointed out at the previous meeting when discussing this topic, this will be a continuation and not a new meeting, according to City Attorney Robert Pickels. Thus, it will be for discussion among staff and the commissions only and there will be no additional public comment.

At the June 1 meeting, nearly 20 members of the public spoke. Assistant City Manager Karen Osburn said this week that before council considers the new plan, the Planning and Zoning Commission must review and make recommendations.

The commission is set to make recommendations on updates to the plan, most of which are simply changes to get the city in compliance with federal regulations. They will also consider the appropriateness of 20 city-owned properties as sites for future cell towers.

“While the city began this effort last year in an attempt to preserve some control over where new wireless sites are located and what they look like, new state law [House Bill 2365] allows wireless carriers access to all of the city’s rights of way,” she said.

Osburn added that it is doubtful now that many providers will use the Master Plan to site this infrastructure in accordance with the city’s preferences since they can, by right, place it in the city’s rights of way.

At the June meeting, Osburn said 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 [the city’s consultants] 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,” Osburn said in June. “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 told the commission. 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 at that meeting. “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 at the last meeting that the city has no applications and hasn’t even talked to any providers about any of these sites. 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:

  • Must allow for the carriers to deploy their systems. n 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 Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Communications Commission.

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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