A public meeting held to address East Lansing residents’ concerns about a plan to add more than 50 5G cell facilities, including in residential neighborhoods, did not ease the concerns of many in attendance.
The Monday, Feb. 27, meeting, held in the Hannah Community Center, brought together representatives for Crown Castle, the company installing the 5G facilities, with residents who have raised objections or questions about the project.
There have been concerns about the plan since it was announced in a Dec. 27 Lansing State Journal advertisement that Crown Castle intended to install two small cell towers, one in the Glencairn neighborhood and one in Bailey. Nearby homeowners said they were not directly notified of the plan. While Crown Castle hoped the public meeting would calm tensions, many of the interactions were contentious and some residents remained frustrated.
“These guys are cowards, they hide behind a state law that allows them to come in and ruin our neighborhood,” said one attendee, who wished to remain unnamed. “This, tonight, is a spectacle. They’re not going to listen to us. They don’t take any of our input and do anything substantial with it. This is just a dog and pony show.”
City officials have expressed doubt they will be able to block the installation of the cell facilities due to a state law that allows them to be built if they meet certain standards. A page on the city’s website dedicated to the 5G facilities now says municipalities “must allow” 5G small cellular wireless facilities to be added to their communities.
East Lansing is not the only city that has been impacted by the state law. Ann Arbor Deputy City Administrator John Fournier told ELi over email that many municipalities across the state, including Ann Arbor, opposed the state regulation. However, with the law in place the City of Ann Arbor has shifted its focus on helping to guide the installation of towers instead of stopping them from being built.
“I don’t think it would be accurate to say that we have pushed back against the addition of small cell technology on a project by project basis, though some in our community are more vocally opposed to them than others,” he wrote to ELi. “We did oppose the preemption [of municipal regulatory power] by the legislature. However, the position of the City on it is that we have a duty to guide these installations to be as faithful to the community’s well-being from an aesthetic and land-use perspective as possible, and we use our design standards to do so.”
The design standards from Ann Arbor are available here.
East Lansing Communications Specialist Carrie Sampson told ELi via email that Crown Castle has not yet filed any permit applications with the city. However, in a separate email to ELi, Crown Castle Public Affairs Manager Renee Morales said the company plans to do so soon.
One of the primary concerns of residents at the meeting is that they believe their objections to the project are not being taken into consideration and that Crown Castle will use the state law as cover to install the facilities regardless of what residents say.
“I think there’s the general sense [among] the residents of this neighborhood, that our concerns are not being listened to,” said Cynthia Jordan, a Glencairn neighborhood resident who attended the meeting.
Another question some attendees had was whether the 5G components could be added to the poles in future months and years. Sampson told ELi there are plans to use some existing structures for the 5G expansion, and new poles will be erected in places where suitable structures are not already located.
Morales explained how the technology works in an email reply to questions from ELi.
“Small Cells or a small cell network consists of several, small, low-powered antennas that are often attached to existing infrastructure in the right of way, such as streetlights and utility poles,” she wrote. “Where there is no viable existing infrastructure, then the alternative is to propose to build a new pole or streetlight that will accommodate the small cell.”
Morales said the locations for the cell facilities are selected by the wireless carriers. City officials have previously said Verizon customers will be the primary beneficiaries of the new facilities.
The 5G facilities will be placed in the right-of-way of properties. This is usually the grassy area between the sidewalk and the street, but can appear to be in a homeowner’s yard if there is not a sidewalk near their home.
Some residents are concerned the addition of unattractive 5G structures will cause their property values to decrease. Many at the meeting don’t want large utility infrastructure added near their homes.
“One of the things that drew us to that particular house when we moved here in 2001 was the fact that it didn’t have a bunch of poles around it with a bunch of wires hanging down,” said Glencairn neighborhood resident Marc Breedlove, who is married to Jordan. “I think everyone appreciates that aesthetic.”
Many residents at the meeting said the facilities should be built on traffic islands or near public buildings, like the Hannah Community Center, and not so close to their homes.
Some residents at the meeting said they believe the 5G structures are not needed. They expressed being content with their current cell service.
“What is 5G doing for us?” Breedlove asked. “I’m pretty sure it’s doing something for Crown Castle, I’m sure they get well paid for every tower they put in.”
Morales explained that if too many people are trying to use service from the same small cell facilities or towers at once, they may not be able to make a call or send a text – even if their phones show full service bars. This can sometimes happen during large gatherings, such as Michigan State University football games when there is a huge influx of visitors to the city.
“Small cells are smaller in size than towers and are placed closer together to provide increased network capacity for wireless carriers,” Morales said via email.
The 5G facilities Crown Castle provided photos of looked similar to utility poles. They must remain under 40-feet tall to avoid requiring a special use permit from City Council. Morales said the structures don’t have large aeronautical-style lights on the cell facilities, but there are indicator lights like there are on computers.
Some residents that had researched Crown Castle came across articles about the company suing cities and even residents who pushed back against projects. Morales addressed those lawsuits in the email to ELi, but did not say if the company has considered taking similar action in East Lansing if the backlash continues.
“Our focus in any municipality is to work in cooperation to build the communications infrastructure that enables connectivity,” she wrote. “We undertake our efforts with mindfulness for the community, its concerns, and the law. In those narrow instances where we’ve sought legal relief to build our networks, we have done so only after making concerted efforts to resolve pending issues and items of concern with all interested stakeholders.”