WINDERMERE – The town of Windermere is moving forward on an ordinance involving the placement of telecommunication towers, following suit with cities such as Winter Garden and Winter Park.
The ordinance, labeled 2017-06, was created in response to the state’s Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Deployment Act that took effect July 1, to the chagrin of many local leaders who consider it an infringement on Home Rule.
The controversial state legislation establishes strict limits for denying a telecommunication provider’s application to install a cell tower or add equipment on a utility pole that would enable future 5G cellular technology.
Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn pressed that the town believed it was necessary to draft an ordinance that would establish standards regarding the location, appearance and permitting requirements of said towers.
“(The ordinance) will just give us more control and let us know exactly what (telecommunication providers) are expecting to do,” Bruhn said. “I think that’s one of the big things — trying to make sure that we have a say in the placement and the way they look.”
However, municipal officials are limited in what they can regulate. Local governments are not allowed to limit the height of the towers nor how many may be placed within a certain radius — a fact that disturbs Bruhn, because each tower would have standalone devices dedicated to a specific carrier.
“These things could be as big as the size of a refrigerator. When they call them a small cell tower, they’re not talking about the size of the cell tower itself — they’re talking about the reach of that tower, which is basically two city blocks,” Bruhn said. “So that says a lot about many you might have proliferate throughout your community. … And in addition to them only reaching two blocks, carriers will not share a single tower. In other words, a provider like, say, AT&T will not share with Sprint, or T-Mobile or Virgin Mobile. “
Currently, the town has a large communication tower belonging to CenturyLink on Main Street that was installed before Bruhn was elected mayor.
However, about a week after the state passed its legislation streamlining the permitting and application process for communication towers in municipal rights-of-way, the town received one application for a tower to be placed in front of Windermere Elementary School, Bruhn said.
The town has since rejected the application because of technical issues, but the provider is legally permitted to try again once it corrects the application. Town staff would have little power besides negotiation if it were to come to that, Bruhn said.
“We can’t say no, but we can negotiate,” he said. “That’s the whole idea of the ordinance — to set standards. And we’re trying to do that, but the bottom line is that the state Legislature has taken away our ability to say no. So that’s why it’s very urgent that we try to at least establish minimum standards that (the providers) should be able to live with and we can live with.”
The ordinance, which passed its first reading Nov. 14, will see its final reading/public hearing Dec. 12.