Small Cell Towers are Coming to Dexter


The City's discretion with small cell towers is with the aesthetics. 5G infrastructure can be mounted on existing utility poles, buildings, or stand-alone poles such as in this mock-up of a tower on Dexter's Main St. Image mock up by Doug Marrin.

By Doug Marrin, STN Reporter

Small cell wireless infrastructure is coming to the City of Dexter.

Here is the issue: State law makes it impossible for municipalities to prevent wireless providers from putting up small cell towers. The municipality's power/discretion lies mainly in aesthetics.

Verizon Wireless is working with TeleCAD Engineering on deploying small towers around the City for wireless 5G communications.

To control how the wireless infrastructure will look, the Dexter City Council held a public hearing to consider a proposed ordinance regulating Small Cell Wireless Infrastructure. Nobody spoke at the hearing. Immediately afterward, the Council discussed the issue. Community Manager Michelle Aniol explained the need for an ordinance.

“Just prior to the COVID pandemic, the state enacted new laws that severely limit a municipalities’ rights to regulate and control the installation of the new small cell wireless devices with the city’s rights-of-way (ROW). Municipal groups and advocates have protested and initiated legal action to reinstate the rights of municipalities to control their own ROW. Those efforts, unfortunately, have not achieved the desired outcome. Thus, small cell wireless providers and wireless infrastructure providers have nearly unfettered access to municipal ROWs, including attachment of equipment to municipally-owned infrastructures, such as but not limited to light poles and the ability to install new poles.”

Ms. Aniol goes on to explain that the laws also restrict the fees municipalities can charge wireless providers. Ongoing legal challenges to the law are anticipated, but rather than wait for a favorable ruling, “It’s staff’s opinion that a set of regulations be implemented to the extent possible,” said Aniol.

As a starting point for an ordinance, the City examined small cell wireless ordinances from Rochester, Berkley, and Fenton, all in Michigan. From these examples, the City Staff gleaned pertinent information for Dexter and drafted a hybrid ordinance.

Doug Weber of Urban Wireless Solutions is consulting the City on the matter. Mr. Weber made recommendations to the draft. The revised version was presented to the Council at its July 26 meeting.

The City’s discretion lies mainly in the ascetics of the infrastructure. The main concern is maintaining the character of the neighborhoods and downtown where the infrastructure will be installed. “They are going to be mostly around 40-feet above the ground,” explained Aniol. “And there is going to be more of them than the big cell towers that have a wider range.”

“We're trying to deal with this in a way that will make it palatable and still be within the confines or structure of those state laws,” added Aniol.

In regards to the new wireless ordinance, Mr. Weber said, “I think what it does is it give the City some more discretion to be able to make sure the small cell facility blends in with the zoning district in which it's in.”

“You've already discussed with the applicant that you're going to want them to put it on a pole that blends in with your existing fluted light poles throughout the downtown area,” continued Weber. “That's one thing the State statute gives the City some leeway to do is to address aesthetic issues.”

No specifics have yet been determined with Verizon as to the location of the 5G infrastructure or its appearance. The article’s featured photo is for illustrative purposes only.

The Council voted to approve the ordinance with some amendments.

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