A group of East Lansing residents are now working together in hopes of saving East Lansing’s residential neighborhoods from cell phone towers they describe as unattractive. And they’re inviting others to join them.
The CELL (Citizens Engaged for Livable Locations) group formed informally in late December after a Lansing State Journal advertisement announced a company called Crown Castle plans to build two 5G facilities on residential streets in the Glencairn and Bailey neighborhoods.
According to an email to ELi from Frederick Baker on behalf of the group, there are 11 active members in CELL, but more than 50 East Lansing residents are included in its informational network. The group formed following a contentious public meeting with Crown Castle on Feb. 27.
Former East Lansing Downtown Development Authority Chair Peter Dewan spoke about the group during public comment at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
“CELL has been created primarily to work collaboratively with city staff, Crown Castle and Verizon on the site selection for small-cell tower installation,” he said during the March 7 meeting. “CELL was created for East Lansing residents to share ideas and thoughts on how to responsibly construct small-cell towers in our residential neighborhoods.”
Dewan said the group has shared information with leaders in every East Lansing neighborhood.
The group, Dewan said, would like Crown Castle and Verizon to disclose the exact locations of where new structures will be built – not just the addresses of planned sites. He requested company representatives meet with city staff and residents to determine the best placement for new structures.
“The residents of East Lansing simply want our voices to be heard,” he said.
CELL prepared a memo for Council to review, which can be viewed here.
The group is taking an approach to the 5G facilities that is similar to what the City of Ann Arbor has implemented as described in a document entitled “Small-cell Facilities Guidelines.” Ann Arbor Deputy City Administrator John Fournier explained in an email to ELi that his city isn’t trying to block the construction of the facilities, but is instead looking to guide them in an aesthetically pleasing direction consistent with Ann Arbor’s design standards.
Baker reiterated Dewan’s statement to Council that CELL would like East Lansing to use the same small-cell facility guidelines in use by Ann Arbor. CELL’s team has reached out to an Ann Arbor city staff member who was familiar with their approach to the 5G facility installation in their city. That staff member explained their guidelines, which CELL found to be a “smart, workable approach” that East Lansing can learn a lot from.
“CELL’s primary goal is to encourage and maximize co-location, which is also a stated goal of the small cell wireless act,” Baker explained. “This will help us to protect all of the other values protected under the act, i.e., cityscape aesthetics, pedestrian and vehicular safety, drainage and flood prevention, and other residential impacts that can be considered under the act and the City’s ordinance in reviewing permit applications.”
The email from CELL also explained the group would like there to be a focus on co-location of the 5G equipment – consolidating material into as few locations as possible, preferably adding equipment to existing poles – and that building new structures should be a last resort, especially when those new utility poles are built in the right-of-way near homes. (East Lansing homeowners have expressed concern the small cell structures could lower their home value if built near their property.)
“In short, CELL would like to see more trees and fewer poles, wires, and above-ground infrastructure installations,” the email said.
Since residents found out about Crown Castle’s plan to install 5G structures, there have been many people speaking out against the project in city meetings while a few others have expressed a desire for better cellular service.
CELL’s approach seeks to strike a balance between improving cellular services and keeping East Lansing’s appearance.
“My neighbors and I, we are not anti-technology, we are not luddites,” Glencairn neighborhood resident Marc Breedlove said at Tuesday’s Council meeting. “We are absolutely in favor of technology. But so far we haven’t gotten enough information to know that we’re going to be heard. So, I do hope that CELL will have a voice at the table.”
This approach is an alternative to advocating for stopping the 5G facilities from being installed altogether. East Lansing officials have said it would be very difficult to stop Crown Castle from installing small cell facilities that meet state requirements due to the statute that regulates them.
“Per State of Michigan requirements, local municipalities must allow for cellular wireless companies to add 5G small cell wireless facilities within their communities,” the city’s web page dedicated to the 5G project reads.
Baker said CELL membership is informal, but those interested in supporting or participating in the group can email email@example.com for more information.
East Lansing’s City Council is set to take up this matter at its meeting next Tuesday, March 14.