PRESCOTT – The Yavapai County Planning Commission voted to revise its wireless communications facilities ordinance Wednesday, despite objections from cell phone companies.
Chair Gene Kerkman was the only commissioner to vote against the revised ordinance, saying he wanted to wait and talk to industry representatives first.
He predicted that the Board of Supervisors would send the issue back to the Planning Commission Nov. 1 because of the controversy.
Officials from five cell phone companies said they oppose the ordinance revisions, mainly because they believe the changes will increase the cost and time it takes to build new cell phone towers.
Four of the company reps said they don't like the requirement for the county's consultant, Center for Municipal Solutions, to review their applications. Alltel's previous experiences with CMS led to excessive documentation and reviews, Beverly Kinison said.
CMS representative Mel Patterson denied that, saying his company actually speeds up the process.
"They don't like somebody looking over their shoulder," Patterson said.
"We don't believe it needs to be changed," Mark Williams of Verizon said of the ordinance. "It does create a number of additional and onerous requirements." He added that the company believes the new ordinance could violate the federal Telecommunications Act.
He asked to talk with county officials before the commission voted.
Paul Daly, representing the Prescott Area Association of Realtors, said he liked the county's approach with the consultant but he also believed they should talk with industry reps before voting.
One other citizen spoke at the meeting. Lucinda Grant, a chemically sensitive person, urged the commissioners not to drop the requirement for cell towers to be at least 1,000 feet from homes.
Assistant Development Services Director Enalo Lockard responded that the 1,000 limit is only a guideline and it hasn't been an issue in the past, despite an average of 25 applications annually for cell towers.
However, just this week the Board of Supervisors denied an AT&T application based on neighbors' opposition when AT&T was seeking to build a monopole fewer than 1,000 feet from their homes.
Removing the 1,000-foot limit will allow companies to get closer to homes without going through a public hearing process, Deputy County Attorney Randy Schurr noted.
The county's goal is to process half the tower applications through the administrative instead of planning commission process, Lockard said.
After a two-hour hearing, the commissioners decided to keep the proposed ordinance the same and remove the 1,000-foot limit.
"I think it's a step forward," Commissioner Walter Burcham said. "If it doesn't work, we come back and visit it again."
Kerkman said people have learned to live with thousands of phone and electric poles.
"When I look at that, towers don't look so bad," he said.
Commissioners also recommended slight increases to a wide variety of Development Services Department fees Wednesday.
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