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Clawson introduces small cell/5G communications ordinance

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published July 6, 2020

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CLAWSON — On June 16, the Clawson City Council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance aimed at regulating the deployment of small cell wireless/5G and related facilities within city limits.

The city opted to preemptively pass the ordinance to maintain control over the activities of wireless infrastructure and service providers regarding the location requirements of certain wireless facilities.

The ordinance will go into effect 10 days after the City Council approves the second reading of the ordinance. The City Council met July 7, after press time.

Councilman Lou Samson consulted with interim City Attorney Renis Nushaj as he penned the ordinance, as Samson had worked for a variety of providers in the cellphone industry from 2001 to 2018.

“(He managed) radio frequency compliance of cell planning and meeting the regulatory requirements for implementation of cell technology in communities across multiple states and across Michigan,” Mayor Reese Scripture said. “He would go before councils. … He is very aware, frankly, of some of the tricks pulled on the other side.”

Nushaj said he continued the work initiated by former City Attorney Jon Kingsepp and was glad to tap Samson’s knowledge to navigate industrial jargon, which he compared to chloroform in terms of “putting one to sleep.”

“(Mr. Kingsepp) showed the council basically a picture of a refrigerator on top of a pole a few years ago, and he indicated this is what’s coming and said we need to get ahead of this. We need to start legislating around this so that we can be prepared,” Nushaj said. “I must admit this is highly technical in nature, by design.”

Nushaj said there is litigation ongoing on the issue on both the federal and state levels, so he expects the ordinance to undergo future tweaks, but he wanted to at least have something on the city’s books.

He said there was “very little room” for local municipalities to legislatively preserve the health, safety and welfare of residents and control the incoming towers and additions to existing towers in the city.

“It’s going to be cumbersome, and we’re limited in the way we do things, so it was very tricky, very technical, and that’s why it’s taken so long for us to bring it before you for a first reading,” Nushaj said. “It’s important for our DPW and our engineers to be able to have these tools to basically start addressing incoming applications.”

Samson said he believed the ordinance is a “real good thing” to bring the latest technology to Clawson while keeping residents safe.

“With the new laws coming up, it’s going to keep changing, but I think we can work through all of them as they come,” Samson said.

He said the current transmitter for 5G communications resembles a 6-cubic-foot refrigerator on a pole, but as technology improves, the size becomes smaller and smaller. He said the future of 5G equipment in Clawson depends on the company and willingness to collaborate.

“We hope to drive them towards doing a neutral host in the same box, or instead of two boxes, have one box and separate plugs for each carrier, and that will keep the number of boxes down,” Samson said. “Everything looks ugly up there, but we’re just trying to mitigate the amount of stuff on the telephone poles our citizens have to look at.”

He said the ordinance also addresses the safety of the community.

“We want to make sure nobody puts it right outside a second-story window (to reduce) radiation in the neighborhood and the bedroom of someone’s house,” Samson said. “I’m willing to work with (DPW Director Matthew Hodges) and his group and really give them a 5G 101 course and through the first couple of applications.”

Scripture said the issue of providers legally being allowed to install such facilities in public rights of way is one of the problems that local municipalities face.

“We’re limited in our ability to craft ordinances,” she said. “All of the communities are just chipping away at the margins, and there’s a couple different strands of thought as to how we can approach this.”

She said Clawson is taking the “middle path” — not riding in head first, but also not taking a wait-and-see approach.

“In my mind, a community like Clawson with 2.2 square miles and our finances cannot be the test case of any such legal action, so the middle path approach made a lot of sense,” she said.

She said she was fine with revisiting the ordinance multiple times and viewed it as beneficial to the residents of Clawson.

“If we work together, we can direct them on how we want it done,” Samson said. “If we just allow them to permit it, they can just bulldoze us over and put up whatever they want, and that’s not a good thing, so we want to be ahead of the game.”

Scripture said the topic worries her because of its highly technical nature and because she would hate to make a mistake, but that she feels more confident now with the introduction of the ordinance guided by Samson’s expertise.

To view the ordinance, visit https://clawsoncitymi.documents-on-demand.com and search for “City Council Packet June 16, 2020.” For more information, call Clawson City Hall at (248) 435-4500.

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