Paradise Valley approves cellular infrastructure limitations

The Paradise Valley Town Council during a study session at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

The State of Arizona earlier this year made it easier for wireless carriers to construct and install cell-phone towers in cities and towns throughout the state, but at least in the Town of Paradise Valley that structure will have to meet certain design standards.

Local officials voted unanimously Aug. 8 to set forth specific review and design criteria for those looking to build cell-phone towers within the town’s boundaries.

Following the approval of HB 2365, signed by Gov. Doug Ducey on March 31, wireless carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint are now allowed to install, operate and maintain small-cell equipment within city and town rights-of-way.

After an Aug. 8 special and public hearing, the Paradise Valley Town Council voted unanimously to amend two sections of Town Code relating to the review process, look and design of proposed cell structures.

The votes were cast just hours before the new state law went into effect Aug. 9.

The Planning Commission and Town Council held a number of meetings during the summer to discuss compliance with the new state statute — but also to discuss how the town could protect itself from unsightly cell-phone towers popping up throughout the area.

The amended Town Code will require towers be disguised as a 24-foot faux cactus with associated equipment to be buried underground. The finished tower must blend in with its surroundings and not be placed on a sidewalk or visible concrete area.

If a faux cactus isn’t feasible for technical reasons, then the applicant may request to place the cell facility on an existing, or replaced, traffic signal pole or light pole.

State statute limits the town from imposing additional requirements, but it can ask for evidence that other conditions are being met, Town Manager Kevin Burke explained during the Aug. 8 study session.

No residents spoke up during the Aug. 8 public hearing, but representatives from three of America’s largest cell phone companies were in attendance and addressed the council.

Verizon, AT&T and Sprint all came forward to commend the town for taking the lead on the issue, and asked to work with officials to “tweak” some areas of the code in order to find a workable solution for their businesses and the town.

The town council ultimately voted 7-0 to pass the amendments.

“You (cell phone representatives) guys pushed pretty hard to get this into the Legislature this year, so we’ve all not had a lot of time. I think that’s across the board,” Councilwoman Julie Pace said in response to the cell-companies’ request to continue working on this topic.

Councilman Paul Dembow expressed frustration at not seeing any of the cell-phone company representatives at the meetings hosted over the summer by the town.

“I find it incredible that you pushed this through the state Legislature. We had several meetings, and you don’t say anything. And now, it’s ‘we’re going to work it out with your staff,’ which is very reminiscent of the Affordable Care Act,” Councilman Dembow said.

“I find it absolutely incredible that you were the ones who pushed this legislation through, and against what I think is better sense, our town manager even reached out to your lobbyist and had a conversation about what’s going on and you come back with, ‘don’t do anything yet.’ It’s crazy.”

Mr. Dembow says he disagrees with allowing the wireless carriers to meet privately with town staff to discuss additional changes — regardless of how small those changes are.

He believes any changes should be discussed and agreed upon through a public process.

News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be reached by e-mail at mfittro@newszap.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MelissaFittro

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