One of the biggest challenges we face as a city government is getting the word out to residents about issues before the council. Issues arise every week that impact some section of our community. In my opinion, these issues would be best addressed if we had the input of the residents most directly affected by the respective issue. If only there was a way to point a computer cursor at a map and somehow create a listserv directed to all impacted residents. Unfortunately, it does not work like that and sharing information about issues before the City Council is a challenge.
An issue that would benefit from broad dissemination is one currently before the City Council: Crown Castle, a telecom company, is seeking to install approximately 56 wireless “mini-cell towers” throughout Rye to achieve a blanket of coverage for its client, Verizon Wireless.
Crown Castle has an agreement with Rye from 2011 whereby Crown Castle was permitted to install eight mini-cell towers for a different wireless provider, not Verizon Wireless. That agreement was considered and approved under Rye City Code Section 167, which deals with “Streets and Sidewalks.” The reason the city proceeded as they did in 2011, in my estimation, is because these mini-cell towers are placed on utility poles in the city’s right of way. You can check out Crown Castle’s 2011 installations at the following eight locations: 594 Forest Ave., 138 Oakland Beach Ave., side of 411 Milton Road, 36 Franklin Ave., across from 52 Roosevelt Ave., 120 Old Post Road, across from 401 Theodore Fremd Ave., and 2 Clinton Ave.
Seems to me the city might have considered processing a wireless mini-cell tower application more appropriately under the City’s Code Section 196, “Wireless Telecommunications Facilities.” After all, the intent of that chapter is “to ensure that the placement… of wireless telecommunications facilities and related equipment is consistent with the city’s land use policies and zoning code; to minimize the negative and adverse visual impact of [such facilities and] to protect the health, safety and welfare of the City of Rye.”
Not surprisingly, Crown Castle returned to Rye this year to request an additional 73, no, scratch that, 56 mini-cell towers that are slightly larger than those installed in 2011. The explosion in demand for wireless broadband to accommodate new devices like smartphones, digital tablets, laptops and other devices has led to an explosion in demand for facilities. According to the 2012 FCC Wireless Competition Report, Verizon Wireless plans to increase its cell sites by 53 percent—from 42,600 to 65,000—just to accommodate its current needs. Not surprisingly, annual wireless revenues increased 183 percent from $65.3 billion in 2001 to $184 billion in 2012, according to CTIA, The Wireless Association.
So how should Rye proceed? While the Telecommunications Act of 1996 limits what the city of Rye can do to prevent wireless facilities altogether, subsequent case law demonstrates that a municipality may control the location, construction and modification of these wireless facilities.
In recent years, there has been an explosion in city utility polls becoming the host for all sorts of new telecommunications equipment. Many of these bulky, box-like equipment holders are large, unsightly, block sidewalk space, and obscure pedestrian and driver sight lines. They are not small, discreet pieces of equipment, but rather a growing nuisance that the city should get a handle on before approving 56 more units.
If we approve these requests, are we obligated to approve countless future requests from other carriers? Shouldn’t the city inventory and map all existing equipment before the council makes decisions on this application? Are there less intrusive technologies available to improve service in Rye?
There is always the need for better service, but shouldn’t we require applicants to present choices and make an effort to minimize impact on our neighborhoods? My job on the City Council is to tackle neighborhood issues as if each threat was in my own neighborhood. By way of full disclosure, one of these proposed installations is in front of my home, but a quick review of the list of locations included above highlights the fact that I am far from alone.
And the issue of proximity to my house is not what compels me to write about this proposal. All residents should expect the City Council to act cautiously and give this issue a full review. After all, if your street is not on this list, it may be on the next. Let’s take a time out and review this issue properly.
If you agree with me, let my colleagues on the City Council know before our July 13 meeting or come and let your voice be heard.