Huntington Woods passes rules for small cell wireless facilities

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published April 17, 2019


HUNTINGTON WOODS — The Huntington Woods City Commission passed a resolution and the first reading of an ordinance that deals with the aesthetics of small cell wireless facilities.

Small cells are wireless transmitters and receivers that can fit on structures such as streetlights. They increase coverage and data speeds and are part of wireless companies’ plans to create 5G wireless networks.

At the commission’s April 2 meeting, City Attorney Lisa Anderson said the ordinance amendment was in response to Federal Communications Commission rules and recent state legislation addressing small cell wireless devices in the right of way.

Anderson stated that the new legislation has “pretty much taken your rights away with the right of way, as far as these small cell wireless devices are concerned,” and what the new ordinance does is establish some aesthetic rules for the small cell wireless boxes that companies install on city utility poles.

“Under the FCC rules, there’s some language in there that says if you want to establish aesthetic standards, you have to have those published by April 14. There’s some interpretations on that, that if you don’t publish those aesthetic standards by April 14, perhaps you won’t be able to enforce them,” she said.

The city attorney recommended a two-pronged approach with the provisions: first holding a first reading of the ordinance amendment, and then in a separate agenda item, passing a resolution declaring the aesthetic rules in Huntington Woods. A second reading will be held at a later date to officially pass the ordinance amendment.

Some of those rules include that wireless facilities must be “treated and colored to be visually compatible with the support structure or utility pole they are collected on”; that existing trees in the public right of way “shall not be removed or trimmed to facilitate the installation, use or maintenance of wireless facilities”; and that wireless facilities, support structures and utility poles “shall not be located within the drip line (critical root zone) of an existing tree in or adjoining the public right-of-way.”

“What we tried to do with the aesthetic standards is put down pretty much everything we could think of, with the thought you can always scale back in the future,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be more difficult — we think — to go the other direction and become more comprehensive in the future because, you know, that might open a door where providers might say, ‘Somebody who came in two weeks ago didn’t have to comply with this. We do, and so there’s some unfairness or discrimination in how these are being applied.’”

Anderson said the rules are a “work in progress” and because they’re so complicated and comprehensive, the city is going to be learning as it goes, as well as wireless providers.

Commissioner Jules Olsman said it was a good idea to get something in place now.

“The industry will take the old proverbial ‘give them an inch, they’ll take a mile,’” he said. “Well, that’s exactly what’s here, and I know it’s important technology, but it’s also important to balance that against the aesthetic value components of the neighborhood and values of the homes. Nobody should have to think you’re looking at something that’s ghastly.”

Commissioner Joe Rozell said that between the state Legislature and the feds essentially taking away Huntington Woods’ rights to maintain its right of way, there’s not much the city can do. He does hope that wireless providers will work with the city in placing the facilities.

“This does make me recall when AT&T came to town when U-verse was first being rolled out, and I remember our planner at the time … went through great lengths to ensure that those ugly cabinets were discreetly placed, despite our ability to not regulate their placement, and working with AT&T on where they were located so that they were not an eyesore to the community,” he said.

“In order for these cellphones to be able to communicate at the speed that they want, there are going to be a lot of these things all over the place, because you need to be in close proximity to achieve that desired speed. So we really, I just think, when this permitting process begins, we really need to be aware of their placement and, aesthetically, how it will affect the community. We did that with AT&T as best we could back years ago, and I would certainly hope we do the same thing here with these wireless providers.”