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Crown Castle sues Rye over application denial

After the City Council’s rejection of a proposal from Crown Castle that sought to install wireless equipment across Rye, the telecom contractor has filed a lawsuit alleging the city’s breach of the federal Telecommunications Act.

According to Rye City Attorney Kristen Wilson, on Friday, May 12, a judge granted Crown Castle’s request for a temporary restraining order after the company’s concern that the City Council may terminate the right-of-way agreement between the parties.

The right-of-way agreement acts as the primary point of reference for when, where and how Crown Castle is allowed to install and modify wireless infrastructure in the city.

The restraining order will also prevent Crown Castle from moving forward on installing any additional equipment in Rye.

“We always knew the matter might go to litigation, which is why it was always so important for council members to be circumspect in our public comments,” said Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican. “Now, we must defend the matter based on the public record. Meanwhile, we will continue to look for an opportunity to reasonably resolve the matter, if that is still possible.”

Wilson said Crown Castle also plans to pursue a preliminary injunction, which would effectively prevent both the city from terminating the agreement—which was struck in 2011 under the administration of former Mayor Douglas French—and Crown Castle from installing its equipment, in the form of wireless nodes, for the length of the parties’ litigation. The hurdles for securing that type of injunction, the city attorney said, are much greater than the restraining order.

The company has contended that the nodes are being proposed in order to bolster the area’s wireless capacity for ever-increasing data usage.

Wilson said she expects a judge’s decision on the preliminary injunction to be rendered before the end of the month. Crown Castle’s decision to bring the city to court is not unexpected, and comes just a month after the council’s rejection of their application, which had been deliberated for more than a year and was the subject of vehement public pushback.

Among chief concerns with the proposal were the installation’s effects on property values, and initially worries over its impact on public health.

As for the course of Crown Castle’s application, Wilson said the court will now be the ultimate deciders of whether the telecom contractor is allowed to proceed with its application.

“I don’t know if there’s a path towards a settlement,” she said.

With litigation ongoing, according to City Councilwoman Julie Killian, a Republican, the City Council will also move forward on its revamp of the local telecommunications law—a process launched earlier this year—in hopes of tightening control over Crown Castle and any such future applications.

The goal of the code revamp, which started this past January, will be to ensure equipment installed by Crown Castle—who is being contracted by Verizon Wireless to install dozens of wireless nodes—has a lower impact on the aesthetics of Rye’s neighborhoods. The code would also apply to any other telecom companies looking to pursue a similar application in the future.

Many of the proposed additional wireless node locations being considered by Crown Castle are located adjacent to residential properties.

In addition to denying the application, the City Council also voted to send the project into a lengthier and more stringent environmental review by deciding on a positive determination under the State Environmental Quality Review Act; however, litigation will halt that process. This determination would have required Crown Castle to do a complete environmental impact statement of its proposal.

Councilwoman Emily Hurd could not be reached for comment as of press time.

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