Crown Castle’s efforts to install a 25-node distributed antenna system to improve MetroPCS cell phone coverage in Davis appear to have hit another dead-end.
The city’s Planning Commission voted 4-3 at its meeting Wednesday to deny Crown Castle the conditional use permit that would have allowed the company to install the antennae throughout the city.
“The project, as presented, is just not the right fit for Davis,” Lucas Frerichs, commission chairman, said Monday. “I think there’s a couple of reasons for denial: Questions have been raised about the actual need for additional service, and if coverage gaps do exist in Davis. Davis also has a policy of co-locating and stealthing these towers on macro sites, this (proposed plan) is the opposite of what we’ve done historically.”
Frerichs also explained that the proposal does not fit within the city’s telecommunications ordinance, which the city would have needed to amend if it had approved Crown Castle’s application.
“One of the biggest parts of the (telecommunications ordinance), is it’s pretty adamant that there should not be these types of facilities built within 500 feet of residential uses, and a number of these proposed towers are, in some cases, within 10 feet of people’s bedrooms.”
About 30 Davis residents spoke before the Planning Commission on Wednesday for 45 minutes to express their disapproval over Crown Castle’s application.
During past meetings, residents had voiced concerns about possible health risks of placing antennae in close proximity to their homes. However, the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 prohibits city regulators from considering any real or perceived health effects of cell towers and may only consider matters of aesthetics.
So instead, residents stuck to the aesthetics and the importance of preserving the 500-foot setback.
“I feel that the 500-foot setback is absolutely critical based on what I’ve seen tonight,” said Davis resident Bob Leland. “These things, together with the refrigerator-sized box that comes with it, are far uglier than I had initially feared.”
Many residents also expressed their concerns that allowing one carrier into the city could open the door to other carriers, as the city would not legally be allowed to discriminate between like companies.
The equipment that Crown Castle would like to install include antennae that would perch atop light poles or joint use utility poles and also utility boxes that would sit on the ground near the antenna sites.
Crown Castle has proposed two different types of antenna nodes with varying capabilities. The first type is a larger antenna that can host several cell phone carriers. The advantage is that additional carriers could contract with Crown Castle and utilize the existing nodes as opposed to adding more new antennas elsewhere in the city.
However, Crown Castle can’t guarantee other carriers would elect to use the nodes. Also, according to residents, the antennae are more of a visual blight on the community.
The other type of antenna is smaller and only can host one carrier, MetroPCS. If other carriers decided to move into Davis, additional antennae would have to be built, which residents also say would add to visual blight.
Two demonstration poles near 812 Burr St. in West Davis and near 4608 Redbud Drive in South Davis have been updated to show what the new antenna options look like.
Crown Castle’s attorney, Michael Shonafelt, spoke before the Planning Commission on Wednesday once again to make the case for why it is important to have the distributed antenna system in its proposed configuration in Davis.
“We wanted to be able to co-locate multiple carriers to avoid more systems going in and also to accommodate future growth,” Shonafelt said. “We see future numbers that make very clear that smart phones, smart tablets and cell phone use is just proliferating by the day and this robust system would allow the accommodation of that demand without having to go back and put in more antennae.”
However, the Planning Commission instructed city staff, which included Mike Webb, the city’s principal planner, and Harriet Steiner, the city’s attorney, to come back on Wednesday, Feb. 8, with findings to officially deny the conditional use permit.
If the applicant appeals the commission’s decision, the City Council would then consider the matter.
The commission’s decision writes another chapter in an ongoing saga of deliberations on whether or not the cell towers, which NewPath Networks, now Crown Castle, proposed two years ago, are the right fit for the city.
In 2009, the city granted NewPath encroachment permits that allowed the company to begin construction on the system. However, residents began complaining as the new equipment appeared near their homes. The city manager at the time ordered the company to stop construction so the city could implement its discretionary review.
But NewPath sued the city because as a utility company, under the California Public Utilities Commission, the company believed it had a right to install the antennae without the city’s approval.
Crown Castle decided to temporarily tuck away the lawsuit when it agreed to take part in the discretionary process of applying for a conditional use permit. The company submitted several applications to the city with various options for the Planning Commission to consider.
— Reach Tom Sakash at email@example.com or (530) 747-8057. Follow him on Twitter @TomSakash.