When creating its wireless communications plan, the city of Sedona knew it had its hands tied due to federal regulations regarding cellular providers.
But a state law — signed earlier this year by Gov. Doug Ducey — has tightened the knot on the city’s hands even more. House Bill 2365 has come up several times during recent Sedona Planning and Zoning Commission meetings.
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. Once the wireless plan receives a recommendation from planning and zoning, it will make its way to the Sedona City Council for a final decision. That’s expected later this year.
Assistant City Manager Karen Osburn said HB 2365 creates an incentive for the industry to use the rights-ofway as opposed to placing towers on one of the 20 cityowned properties outlined in the master plan.
“The universe of total providers we would have been dealing with that would have been looking toward the master plan to help guide them, well, that universe is going to be much smaller now,” she said.
“Any provider that can go in the rights-of-way will do that. It’s just a much simpler and less expensive process.”
In terms of why this bill sailed through the legislature and was signed by the governor, City Attorney Robert Pickels said it’s part of a recent national trend.
“It’s an industry movement that has been spreading across the country to provide more consistency for the telecom industry from every community they do business with,” he said. “That’s why Arizona and about a dozen other states have adopted similar legislation that has eased the planning of the telecom industry.”
Pickels said that this is also part of Ducey’s plan to attract new businesses to Arizona. During discussions with one carrier, they said they don’t want to have to negotiate with APS to install cellular equipment on the existing power poles, Osburn said.
So the plan would be to install their own infrastructure in terms of micro towers within the rights-of-way. Towers can be placed every 500 feet without the need of a conditional use permit.
Any tower placed on private property will still have to go through the city’s CUP process, Osburn said. Being that ADOT rights-of-way — such as state routes 89A and 179 — are exempt from HB 2365, carriers cannot use state-owned rights-of-way without having to negotiate a financial agreement.
In terms of the city’s rights-of-way, they include side streets in both commercial and residential areas.
This equates to about 13 feet on either side of a city street. In regard to small wireless facilities — the kind of towers that will be seen in city rights-of-way — the law states in part that:
- Authority annual rates to the city for small wireless facilities are capped at $50.
- A city is required, within 20 days of receipt, to notify the applicant if the application is incomplete, including identification of any missing information.
- A city is required to approve or deny the application within 75 days or the application is automatically approved.
- A city is required to grant approval unless the application does not meet regulations concerning public safety, design standards, concealment requirements or spacing requirements for ground-mounted equipment in a right-of-way.
With the federal regulations that were already in place — and now those imposed by the state — some have asked why the city is still pursuing a wireless master plan.
“If we were going to start talking about initiating a master plan right now, we would not initiate one,” Osburn said. “We would not have gone through the cost or the process to develop a master plan in light of House Bill 2365. However, because we’ve been working on this for about a year, we are already at the very final stages. In our minds, we’ve already come so far that we might as well complete it. Even if it’s just one macro tower [on city property] that we have a greater influence on where it goes and what it looks like, at this point that’s better than nothing.”