Mitigating the visual impacts of cell towers in Sedona
In 2016, the City Council requested city staff update the existing wireless facilities ordinance and develop a Wireless Master Plan to guide the future development and construction of wireless infrastructure within the community. As demand continues to grow for better wireless connectivity, the Master Plan was intended to be a way to proactively plan for and mitigate the impacts of new cell phone towers and base stations. Preferred city owned sites would be identified in the plan and wireless companies would be given incentives to site there. As a landlord the city would have greater control over where these structures were built and what they look like, than if the wireless providers site on private properties they select, in locations that may be less desirable.
However, due to lack of community consensus about which sites would be appropriate for wireless facilities, the City Council decided not to pre-select any city-owned sites. Since pre-determining locations for future wireless facilities was the main purpose of the Master Plan, there will no longer be a need to have a Master Plan.
The city still updated its existing wireless ordinance to comply with federal regulations and with as many restrictions as legally allowed in an attempt to lessen the negative impacts of new wireless facilities.
State legislation and its effects
While the city was updating the ordinance, and developing the draft Master Plan, the Arizona state legislature passed House Bill 2365 giving the wireless industry the right to place wireless towers in city streets’ rights of way. Sedona’s rights of way are typically 50 feet wide and if 24 feet of that is street, that means 13 feet on either side of the street is fair game for wireless towers. Additionally, this bill makes it inexpensive (a comparably small fee) for a company to site a cell tower and requires the City to approve an application within 60-days with only an over the counter permit, and no public hearing or notification process.
This legislation, essentially saying that wireless is allowed to be sited in many areas for less money than they are paying to, for example lease from a private property owner, with a quick, over-the-counter permit, also made the incentives proposed in the Master Plan not as effective.
Though the new legislation largely prohibits the city’s ability to regulate wireless facilities in the rights of way, the wireless ordinance provides regulations for towers that site outside the rights of way. The wireless ordinance was approved by City Council on May 22, 2018.