East Lansing’s City Council is poised to appoint a new ad hoc committee to “explore potential guidelines or ordinances regarding small cell facility construction,” according to the posted agenda for Tuesday’s meeting (March 21).
If the resolution appointing the committee is passed as drafted, the committee will consist of a Planning Commissioner as chosen by that commission, a Historic District Commissioner as chosen by that commission, and Brian Loomis as a representative of CELL (Citizens Engaged for Livable Locations).
At last Tuesday’s Council meeting (March 14), a Crown Castle Representative clarified the company’s plan to install more than 50 5G small cell facilities in the city and interacted directly with the CELL citizen group.
Crown Castle Government Affairs Manager Thomas Musgrove gave a presentation and answered questions from Council before interacting at the podium with two members of the CELL group. Musgrove’s presentation came after a public comment portion of the meeting where several residents voiced concerns about the project, which ranged from worries about changing the city’s appearance to what they call a lack of transparency about the project.
Crown Castle’s representative said the company regrets their lack of communication early on.
One of the main complaints residents have had since the project was discovered is the way Crown Castle has communicated. Residents found out about the project through a Lansing State Journal advertisement that announced two planned 5G facilities, specifically new 40-foot towers to be located in front of single-family homes. The advertisement ran the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, when newspaper readership is low.
Musgrove said it was an “oversight” to run the advertisement without more clearly communicating the plan with city staff. From now on, he said, Crown Castle will notify the city of new facilities before publishing advertisements.
“I will absolutely acknowledge that we have actually changed our practices based off of this experience,” Musgrove said.
However, Musgrove said the company will not be personally reaching out to homeowners when new structures are being added near their homes–a step some residents had requested.
Crown Castle provided an updated map and clarified plans to co-locate and build new structures.
During his presentation, Musgrove showed a new map that clarified which 5G facilities will involve the installation of new towers and which will be co-located onto existing structures, like utility poles or even street lights.
Musgrove said of the 54 planned facilities, 28 will be co-located on existing structures. (This may mean installation of equipment on existing poles or on buildings.) He said it benefits the company to build as few new structures as possible, as overbuilding creates extra costs for Crown Castle.
But Glencairn neighborhood resident Marc Breedlove pushed back against the claim that Crown Castle is trying to minimize the erection of new poles. With Council’s permission, Breedlove spoke on behalf of CELL and as a homeowner who lives at the address of one of the planned new structures. He named several other poles near his house he believes Crown Castle could use for co-location of equipment, instead of erecting another pole.
Councilmember George Brookover asked Musgrove to review the design and guidelines Ann Arbor is using for 5G facility installation, and recommended East Lansing take a similar approach – an action CELL has also advocated for.
At that meeting, Brookover proposed putting together the ad hoc committee now described in the resolution on this Tuesday night’s agenda.
Verizon hired Crown Castle to build the new 5G facilities, which other carriers may also use to expand coverage.
Musgrove explained that while Verizon hired Crown Castle to build the new facilities, the hope is multiple carriers will use the structures. He said if other carriers desire to expand their 5G coverage in East Lansing, they can request that their equipment be added to the structures Verizon is using.
“The expectation is that once we would build one small cell, that makes it a little more palatable for carrier number two or carrier number three to use that piece of infrastructure in lieu of having to build their own small cell,” he said.
Musgrove also clarified that new equipment would be added to the structure if a carrier expands coverage. A permit from the city will be required to add new equipment to a structure.
Musgrove said expanded 5G services are needed because there are more devices now that use the internet. He noted appliances like refrigerators and vehicles are now using internet services, not just smart phones.
Crown Castle says it will not sue citizens voicing their dissent to the cell tower project.
Mayor Ron Bacon asked Musgrove about Crown Castle’s history of filing lawsuits against cities and even naming residents in litigation. Musgrove said as long as all parties are operating within the guidelines of the law, no litigation will be filed.
Brookover pressed Musgrove even further to make a clear commitment.
“Am I to understand that, under no circumstances, Crown Castle [will] ever sue a resident of East Lansing for expressing their opinion with regard to Crown Castle’s applications for these devices in the city?” Brookover asked.
“We would not,” Musgrove said.
CELL representatives were given the opportunity to ask questions of Crown Castle and Council.
In a break from the typical council format where members of the public may speak only during public comment, Council allowed CELL to have two members ask new questions
CELL member Frederick Baker clarified the group is not trying to block the expansion of 5G coverage, but would like to help guide the project in a way that does not harm the cityscape.
Baker’s main question for Musgrove was about the pattern of the 5G facilities’ installations. He asked why so many are being installed near Michigan State University’s campus, and indicated his belief the company is trying to service MSU’s campus using city property.
Musgrove denied this and said they simply build the structures based on their clients’ requests. In this case, that’s Verizon. He also said the small cell towers in the city will not provide enough range to cover much of MSU’s large campus.
Tuesday night’s meeting will allow for public comment near the start. Find the agenda, including location information, here.
Update, March 21: Council voted to approve the creation of the committee in a 5-0 vote.