Cellular towers could be coming to a Safety Harbor street near you

Thanks to a new bill that went into effect on July 1, 2017, companies may now put wireless communication towers at various places in Florida cities and towns, including on the ground in right-of-ways.

The recent approval of state legislation regarding wireless and broadband deployment means communication antennas may be installed on power poles and on the ground, including in right-of-ways.

According to the terms of the Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Deployment Act, which went into effect on July 1, 2017, it “provides for the collocation of small wireless facilities on government owned poles and other poles and structures located in the right-of-way, installation of ground mounted equipment in the right-of-way, installation of new poles in the right-of-way, and installation of micro-wireless facilities.”

In short, it means the government and/or private entities could construct wireless communication towers in the middle of downtown Safety Harbor, and there’s nothing the City could do about it.

“What (the bill) will do is it will allow telecommunication companies to put wireless single towers in the right-of-way throughout the City,” City Manager Matt Spoor told the Commission on Monday, March 6, prior to the bill being passed.

“Whereas before, cell phones have utilized larger communication towers that have been set on private property in most cases, and then they’ve comingled their wireless infrastructure on top those towers. They would now be able to contract with third party vendors and put single poles, anywhere, almost like light poles, in town, and those poles would have wireless infrastructure in them.”

An example of a wireless communication tower that could be installed on Safety Harbor streets thanks to the recent passage of state legislation. (Credit: Houston Chronicle/Google Images)

Spoor said the legislation “severely limits the government’s authority to legislate and dictate where those poles can and cannot go, and it also would fly in the face of everything that small communities have done over the years to put infrastructure underground in certain neighborhoods, in particular in downtown Main Street.”

Spoor added the new legislation would allow companies “to put a 65 or 70-foot pole right in the right-of-way, right next to a tree or plant.”

“If that passes, who knows what towers we could have up, and where, around town,” he said.

The bill was one of a handful of measures deemed detrimental local governments’ ability to legislate their communities, including the regulation of vacation rentals and local businesses.

Despite protests from local lawmakers, House Bill 687 was ultimately signed by Governor Rick Scott on June 23 and went into effect on July 1.

Following the passage of the bill, Spoor related the City’s position on the topic.

“The City is disappointed that state legislators felt the need to dictate how local public rights of way’s (ROW’s) are utilized by private, for profit, cellular providers,” Spoor told Safety Harbor Connect via email.  “We would have preferred they left those decisions up to local elected leaders who are closest to their constituents.”

“With that said, we hope to work within the framework of this new legislation to provide the least intrusive cellular poles and utilities so that our residents do not see or feel the impact of this new law.”

Safety Harbor City Manager Matt Spoor.

According to Spoor, the City hasn’t received permit applications for any towers—yet.

However, he heard the process has begun in other municipalities, and he said city officials are working to come up with solutions to the situation.

“In Pinellas County we have begun discussions with Duke Energy,” he wrote. “Ideally the private providers and Duke could work out an installation where they can be installed on existing Duke Energy light poles, i.e. collocation.”

“We would like to avoid as many new poles in the ROW as possible, especially in our downtown, scenic McMullen Booth Corridor and Neighborhoods, so pretty much everywhere.”

How do you feel about this issue, Harborites? Let us know in the comments below.

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