Paradise Valley to establish new design standards on the heels of HB 2365

Paradise Valley Town Hall is at 6401 E. Lincoln Drive in the Town of Paradise Valley. (File photo)

Paradise Valley Town Council expects to issue a statement of direction to its Planning Commission officials say will lay the groundwork for regulating new cell service infrastructure.

Paradise Valley Town Council on May 25 held a work session discussion on the potential local impacts of HB 2365, which was signed on March 31 by Gov. Doug Ducey. The bill allows wireless carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint to install, operate and maintain small-cell equipment in city and town rights-of-way.

The state of direction is expected to be issued Thursday, June 8.

Paradise Valley town officials have zeroed in on the Personal Wireless Service Facilities chapter of the municipal zoning code with an eye toward inserting “objective design standards and reasonable stealth and concealment requirements” specific to construction of cell service apparatus.

The pins represent residents contacting the Town of Paradise Valley in regard to a call for resident input into local cell phone reception issues. (Submitted graphic)

The council has long been wrestling with challenges surrounding cell-phone service within the town. Officials want top-notch cell service, but that can only be gained through substantial infrastructure installations to maintain signal strength throughout the region’s mountainous terrain.

Those enhancements, however, often involve tall, unsightly structures and town officials are sensitive to protecting the aesthetics of the municipality.

The new law takes effect Tuesday, Aug. 8 and without “objective design standards and reasonable stealth and concealment requirements” municipalities within the state will have little say-so where cell poles or towers are erected or how they look.

That’s a scenario town officials want to avoid.

Town leaders say the Planning Commission will have until Wednesday, July 26 to provide Paradise Valley Town Council with its first draft document of code changes specific to Personal Wireless Service Facilities.
Code amendments will come in phases with the first phase focused on codifying the existing standards established for the already erected distributed antenna system, which is a product of New Path Systems.

In 2011 the town attempted to rectify cell reception issues through new technology known as a distributed antenna system, which consists of a fiber-optic backbone that includes a series of six-foot antenna nodes installed throughout a community improving coverage, voice quality and internet access of cell phones, according to Independent archives.

As a solution, 42 antenna nodes had been installed throughout Paradise Valley — disguised and embedded within faux cacti.

Ahead of the curve

The Town of Paradise Valley appears apt to tackle the cell phone infrastructure conundrum as years earlier aesthetic concerns have already driven design standards to hide small-cell reception solutions.

Kevin Burke

“It is essentially a rewriting of our cell service,” Mr. Burke told members of town council during the May 25 work session discussion. “This is all new and we are still interpreting so there is movement and fluidity to this — this is our best interpretation of this new law.”

The primary standard town leaders appear to be in pursuit of hinges on height requirements. It appears a 24-foot, small-cell tower height limit is being proposed for new cell phone towers that will likely be forced to be within faux landscaping of some kind.

“That is the one we really need to get at,” Mr. Burke said of the putting in place design guidelines for new small-cell infrastructure. “We are able to revert back to those design standards for the faux cactus. We are looking to amend zoning code chapter 8. The direction is to codify our existing faux cacti standard.”
Paradise Valley Town Council gave the proverbial head nod that 24-foot heights for new small-cell apparatus is the standard the municipality will establish.

“We are asking the Planning Commission to identify what that process is,” Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins said during the work session discussion. “We are asking them (the Planning Commission) to identity the process if someone comes in for a 30-foot Cactus and it doesn’t fit our objective standards; what is the process?”

Paradise Valley Town Attorney Andrew Miller points out established municipal procedures may work — procedures like a conditional use permit or special use permit process for both new and existing cell phone infrastructure — to locally regulate HB 2365 provisions.

“Our suggestion is to remain at 24-feet cacti but we don’t want to push things to the curb or the street,” Mr. Miller said of the right-of-way concerns that seem to be marginally understood and interpreted.

“Maybe we allow them something to be done that can be an administrative process that the Planning Commission fine tunes and the public can still provide input.”

Mr. Burke says the town will be trying to find best practices for cell-phone service providers and maintain the aesthetics of affluence in the Town of Paradise Valley.

“If you want something other than that it will take on other considerations,” Mr. Burke said. “We have set the objective design standards and they are coming in with something different so this can get very subjective.

But we wanted to make sure discretion of anything other than the cacti to be with council.”

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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