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New wireless facility ordinance reflects state restrictions

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 20, 2019

GROSSE POINTE CITY — State and federal regulators are greatly reducing the ability of communities like Grosse Pointe City to place limits on distributed antenna systems and small cell wireless facilities in the public right of way.

City Attorney Charles “Chuck” Kennedy told the City Council during a July 15 meeting that in March 2018, the council approved an ordinance that regulated the location, size and color of these facilities, along with imposing installation fees and annual fees for use of the right of way.

However, Kennedy said wireless providers petitioned the Michigan Legislature and the Federal Communications Commission over ordinances such as this one.

“Wireless providers across the country felt that ordinances like ours were too much of a burden,” Kennedy said.

As a result, in December 2018, state laws changed “and essentially preempted our ordinance,” he said.

To be in compliance with new state regulations, the council unanimously approved a revised ordinance in keeping with state limitations.

“Our ability to control these installations … is much more limited,” Kennedy said. “From a financial standpoint, whereas historically we had a $2,500 application fee and a $600-a-year license fee, we’re now limited to a $200 application fee and a $20 right of way fee.”

City Councilman John Stempfle asked Kennedy, “How much money are we going to lose because of this?”

Kennedy said that figure is “hard to quantify,” because there had only been one application prior to the change in state law, but he said that these types of antennas are the trend in wireless service. He estimated that there might be about 20 of these installations in the coming years in the Grosse Pointes, which would translate into a loss of $46,000 in application fees alone.

The City will continue to have some control over facility size and aesthetics, as well as the distance between facilities, Kennedy said.

“It’d be one more piece of equipment on electric poles,” Mayor Christopher Boettcher said of distributed antennas and small cell wireless facilities.

City Manager Pete Dame isn’t surprised wireless communications firms are looking for ways to place their technology on utility poles.

“It’s way cheaper to use public property” than to pay hefty fees to place the equipment on private buildings, he said.