Cell Tower Industry Partially Responsible for Difficulty Zoning Towers

One Disclaimer: This following commentary is my opinion and, since Steel in the Air is my company, it’s Steel in the Air’s opinion too.

I have read articles regarding the need for legislation on the federal level calling for increased federal power to override local land use law for cell tower placement. While I fully agree that some municipal planning boards/city councils deny almost every cell site that comes before them- I don’t believe that increased federal guidance is the answer, nor do I believe that the FCC should usurp the ability of local government to guide the time place and manner in which towers/cell sites are allowed.

As an attorney/wireless consultant with hundreds of zoning hearings on towers under my belt- I recognize the significant cost in both time and resources to get new cell sites approved. Furthermore, I agree that there is a fundamental need for new sites as the average number of Minutes Of Use increases and the number of wireless users continues to increase. I further recognize that there is a need for education on behalf of local land use decision makers that “believe” that they already allowed cell sites across the city and who thought that the development of towers was done.

Nonetheless, I do need to point out that we as an industry have dug our own grave so to speak. We fail to control/guide our site acquisition agents to the best site from a zoning perspective and leasing/construction guidelines often take precendence over good siting. Then we complain when the planning board/neighborhood takes issue with the proposed site and we then make up reasons why we failed to check the property down the road. Some of the RF engineers that I have worked with put together shoddy RF maps that any expert could tear apart- but we let it occur because we need to win the site. As an industry, we have always been tremendously short sighted- looking to get our sites up damn the consequences. I have stood in hearings where the RF engineer has stated on the record that moving the tower 50′ would not work and bit my tongue while he did it. I have put forth fall zone letters for 150′ towers with 5′ fall zones- and answered questions from the board like “Do you expect us to believe that this tower will fall within 5′ of itself?” with the answer “No, I expect that you believe this engineer who is certified in this state to give this opinion” while holding back laughter.

It is partially our own fault that zoning ordinances are what they are- we built towers anywhere we pleased in the late 80s and early 90s, failed to collocate when we should have in the mid to late 90s, and then faced the repercussions years later when planning boards wised up. I writing this because I feel that our industry acts as if we have been victimized but fails to recognize our own role in this. We simply need to be responsible in our siting practices.

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