After more than three hours of discussion, debate, questions and a bit of self-confessed confusion, the Sedona City Council decided it was best to regroup and hash things out at a later date.
The topic: The city’s wireless communication plan and its accompanying ordinance. Council decided to come back and hold another work session on Wednesday, Jan. 10.
One area staff and council could agree upon in terms of a wireless plan and ordinance is that due to state and federal regulations, the city has little say in terms of the future of wireless communication in Sedona.
“The ordinance gives us some tools as to how we manage these facilities coming into our community but as a city we’re still pretty limited in what we can control,” Assistant City Manager Karen Osburn said. “We can’t stop the industry from providing their service — they decide when and where in terms of providing new facilities for their customers.”
While the city’s wireless plan was being researched and written over the last two years, House Bill 2365 was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey in March of this year. The law says that wireless providers can place small cell wireless facilities in the city’s rights-of-way with no public process, and the city must give wireless companies 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. This new law, coupled with current Federal Communication Commission laws, left many on the council saying that their hands are tied, leaving the city with little say in the matter.
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.
- 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 FCC and Federal Aviation Administration.
Councilman Jon Thompson asked about potential health effects from cell towers and what, if anything, the city can do.
“A local jurisdiction may not regulate placement of wireless communication facilities based on the perceived health affects of radio frequency emissions as stated in the 1996 [Tele]communications Act,” consultant Anthony Lepore said. “Since then it has been upheld in multiple judicial decisions that local government has no say as long as the applicant certifies that they are in compliance with the applicable federal standards. You cannot make a decision based on radio frequency concerns. And, you cannot impose additional standards on the applicant with respect to RF concerns other than making them certify they comply with federal standards.”
Fellow CityScape consultant Susan Rabold said there are 22 cellular facilities in Sedona of varying sizes and strengths. Because of the ever-increasing number of people using smartphones and other devices, she said at minimum Sedona can expect 17 to 25 new cell towers over the next decade.
She said she’s not sure if they will be the larger macro towers, such as those found on Airport Mesa, or micro towers like that at Church of the Red Rocks. But she has no doubt they will be needed sooner than later.
In terms of just how many will be needed of the smaller cellular facilities that may be found in the rights-of-way, Rabold said, “The estimate is one per quarter mile or one per 12 households. But we’re not there yet — that’s just the estimate they’re putting out there right now. We don’t want to speculate on how and what that may look like at this point. In another 18 to 24 months we may be able to.”