The debate over the installation of wireless communication facilities continues in Danville, as the Town Council is set to discuss updating its policies regulating the installation of cell facilities on the public right-of-way at its regular meeting on Tuesday evening.
Working to amend its policies in order to keep up with evolving Federal Communications Commission rules and regulations, the council will specifically discuss streamlining the process for installing wireless cell facilities, a movie that has been vehemently opposed by a group of Danville residents.
“Shortly after the (town’s wireless communication facilities ordinance) became effective in September, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a new declaratory ruling and order expressly aimed at promoting the rapid deployment of small cell wireless facilities,” city attorney Robert Ewing and Danville’s principal planner David Crompton wrote in a staff report. “The FCC’s order accomplishes this in large part by further preempting local regulation.”
Three key provisions can be taken away from the FCC order, which do greatly limit the town’s ability to oversee installations, according to town staff.
For one the order mandates that aesthetic regulations can now only be imposed if they are “1) reasonable, 2) no more burdensome than applied to other infrastructure deployments and 3) objective and published in advance.” This aspect essentially eliminates concepts such as “significant gap” and “least intrusive means,” that have been used by the town in the past, said Crompton and Ewing.
“The order provides very little guidance on what types of regulations would meet this new standard other than they must be technically feasible and reasonably directed to avoid the ‘intangible public harm’ of unsightly or out-of character deployments,” they wrote.
The period in which cell facilities can be reviewed and approved has also been greatly shortened. Now small cell proposals must be reviewed in 60 days for an existing pole, or 90 days for a new pole, compared to the 150 days previously allowed.
Third, the order allows municipalities to charge a $100 processing fee per application and $270 annual fee sort of rental fee, that can be charged for the use of a town owned pole.
In order to meet these new regulations, town staff have proposed removing the town’s Planning Commission from the review process, instead having proposed sites reviewed by planning division staff -- with all appeals to be directly reviewed by the Town Council.
“As discussed at the Jan. 8, 2019 Town Council study session, this is the only viable way to ensure that final decisions can be made within the 60 day shot clock while leaving any final decisions on appeal to the Town Council,” Crompton and Ewing wrote.
Staff have also proposed the council adopt licensing agreements with wireless providers, which would streamline the approval process for the installation of wireless facilities on town-owned infrastructure, and allow the town to charge for the use of their poles.
Danville Citizens for Responsible Growth -- a group of residents that have spoken out early and often in protest against wireless facilities being installed in residential areas -- have balked at the council’s consideration of the order, and are encouraging the council to come out against its approval.
“The updates were made without taking into account any input from DCRG. We have provided significant input and sent copies of other cities successful, protective ordinances. These were all completely ignored. Instead, they added more language to the ordinance, taken almost directly from the FCC, to prevent us further local control,” DCRG member Jami Tucker wrote in an email to residents.
In past council meetings, DCRG members have shown particular concern over perceived health risks associated with the radio frequencies emitted from wireless cell facilities. Local municipalities have their hands tied by the FCC, however, who forbid regulations based off health concerns.
“I am personally disappointed at what feels like a bait-and-switch. I thought that we would finally put in place a more protective wireless ordinance which would discourage Danville from becoming Verizon’s (and AT&T’s, Sprints, T-Mobiles...) land grab of expensive Danville real estate at bargain basement prices,” Tucker said. “I was wrong to believe that four of our five elected officials were brave, and so were all of us who showed up at those meetings and took the time to write and call our Town Council.”
Tucker was referring to the Town Council’s March 6 meeting, where the council approval an appeal denying a land-use permit for wireless facility on Camino Tassajara, requested by Verizon Wireless. The denial was based on four out of five council members finding that the proposed location was not the least intrusive site possible, better alternative locations may exist and Verizon did not adequately demonstrated the proposed facility would meet federal radio frequency standards.
The Town Council will meet to discuss its wireless cell facility installation policies and other issues facing the community at its regular meeting Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. at the Town Meeting Hall, 201 Front St.