Council debates 5G expansion regulations

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton Warren City Council met on Monday to discuss an ordinance that sets regulations for these — small, 5G wireless facilities, as well as traditional cell tower development. This small facility is located at the intersection of Conewango Ave. and McPherson St.

As telecommunications providers continue to roll out 5G service, officials continue to grapple with what that looks like in the city limits. To that end, Warren City Council devoted a couple hours to the topic during a Monday evening work session.

A draft ordinance prepared by outside legal counsel was reviewed page-by-page. The ordinance would regulate both small cell deployment as well as larger, traditional cell towers.

Concerns were raised with many areas of the ordinance but two drew the most attention — preserving the historical nature of the community and whether the city can require a private developer to place these facilities on city property.

Council had outside help in the firm of two industry experts — Bob Ritter and Thomas Musgrove with Crown Castle, a communications infrastructure firm.

Councilman John Wortman initially raised concern about a clause in the ordinance that prohibits wireless facility installation on historic structures. “I feel that’s far too restrictive,” he said, arguing that it is “possible to blend this equipment into a historic area without a significant detriment to its historic look.”

Councilwoman Wendy McCain pointed out that the city’s new comprehensive plan “talks about our charm and (the) look of our city. It’s critical to attracting people here.”

“The experts in the field said we can maintain what you’re discussing” without an outright ban,” Wortman said.

Musgrove siad a blanket prohibition “isn’t great.”

“You still want to have that connectivity,” he said. “(You) want to try to maintain that historic streetscape you guys have.”

Mayor Dave Wortman said there needs to be a process to support the historic district with this technology rather than “a carte blanche it can’t be done.”

City Manager Mike Holtz noted three of these small wireless facilities have been installed in the city already — Conewango & McPherson, Conewango & Glade and Hill & McPherson. Each is mounted on a telephone pole and includes a caged box toward the bottom of the pole and then a cylindrical element on the top.

Musgrove said providers use this technology to “augment coverage” in the areas where they are installed after hearing from customers or network teams that “there’s a deficiency in the network there.”

Ritter proposed making this kind of development subject to a conditional use review, which would take project proposals before the planning commission for consideration.

As this use expands, it will probably mean more utility poles. “Most often those polls are already overtaxed to begin with,” Musgrove said.

The other major concern raised during the work session was whether the city should include language in the ordinance that gives preference to city property – and the associating rent revenue – for locating these facilities.

John Wortman asserted the city doesn’t have any business telling a private entity where to locate its resources and, thus, interfering with the free market.

He argued that it would “basically give the City of Warren a monopoly on this industry.”

Councilman Maurice Cashman and McCain both argued in favor of the potential revenue stream but Musgrove said it is “not very difficult” for a developer to challenge this portion of the ordinance.

“It should be the provider’s decision,” Mayor Wortman said, “The service that is most beneficial that we’re trying to get at here is great communications infrastructure. To me, that’s what we’re trying to accomplish here.

When discussion shifted to larger, more traditional cell tower development Councilman Jared Villella questions how many locations there are in the city where such use would even come into play.

Musgrove said having good connectivity is part of future economic development and also a public safety issue.

He said that 80 percent of people don’t have a landline and 80 percent of 911 calls are made on cell phones.

“There is an emergency service component that has to be thought through,” he said, noting that people might not want the facility in their yard but they do expect their phones to work.

And he stressed the city is close to resolution on this issue.

“You guys are on the goal line,” he said.

City Manager Mike Holtz said staff will be working with Ritter and Musgrove on potential language updates to the ordinance, speculating that it would be back before council to consider in April.


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