Cell tower safety standards
Our communication appetites fuel a robust telecom industry to expand and upsize its delivery infrastructure of choice – cell towers – right where we live. Without explicit standards and transparent approval processes in local law there’s little incentive for the industry to provide unobtrusive distribution technology.
If Durham’s new ordinance to regulate cell towers isn’t corrected, residents can expect the safety and quality of life of neighborhoods to be overwhelmed by taller and wider high-rise profit-centers overloaded with antennae and surrounded by equipment corrals of generators and diesel tanks.
Three years of citizen insistence got officials and planning staff to require safety standards like setbacks between homes and towers and tower owner liability insurance. But before the revised draft of Durham’s Wireless Communication Facilities (WCF) Ordinance was sent to the City Council and the Durham County Board of Commissioners for final approval, an inserted limitation made key safety regulations – certification of a tower’s structural integrity and liability insurance – conditional rather than required.
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The language under General Requirements for all WCFs which stated “The following shall be provided with any site plan application” was surprisingly replaced by “The following shall be provided with any site plan application unless otherwise indicated.”
If local lawmakers don’t delete these three little words, all but two of the Ordinance’s General Requirements for WCFs will be staff discretion rather than law.
In 2013 the council and county commissioners voted for amendment TC1100007 which claimed to purge discretionary administrative power from the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) to make Durham compliant with NC law (General Statutes 153A-349 and 160A-393) that states any site plan approval that involves discretionary standards must be quasi-judicial. In the just-approved new WCF Ordinance applications for new towers in residential zones with few exceptions are administratively approved by site plan. This site-plan-only fast track staff approval without a public hearing also allows “Substantial Change,” upsizing of towers now sanctioned by federal law.
If safety standards which used to be required with all tower site plans, are now conditional/discretionary, won’t administratively approved towers and modifications have to be approved not by staff but rather in a quasi-judicial format before the Board of Adjustment or elected officials? Will our public servants eradicate this language that undermines cell tower safety standards and clarify who gets to approve cell towers in residential areas?
GoodNeighbors of 751 of Durham