Rockland starts work on telecom tower ordinance, predicts slow process

Tue, 01/14/2020 - 4:45pm

ROCKLAND — “Maybe there ought to be some way to catch balls that we dropped,” said Rockland City Councilor Valli Geiger. “But, indeed, we dropped a ball.”

As many Rockland residents wondered, in this era of cellphones and communications towers, why Rockland has never considered creating a telecommunications tower ordinance, a further realization surfaced.

In 2002, the City’s Comprehensive Plan Committee made such a suggestion. Yet that suggestion was communicated through writing buried deep inside a report.

“One of the things that was discovered was, unfortunately, there are something like 600 pages of the Comprehensive Planning report,” said Geiger. “When you come on Council, you don’t sit down and read 600 pages and say ‘is there anything on this page that has never been passed by Council?’ Maybe we should.”

During the Monday, Jan. 13 Council meeting, councilors voted in First Reading to remove “Telecom Towers” from a current public utilities ordinance, under the reasoning that “in the ordinance, public utilities do not include telecommunications towers.”

That ordinance was further amended to designate the towers as a Special Use. 

The amendments are an initial step toward creating a separate ordinance specifically for the towers, though councilors warned that creating such an ordinance would take time, and that federal law still requires telecom towers to be allowed within municipal boundaries.

Regardless of whether the councilors create their own draft from scratch, whether they follow a model ordinance, or whether they task the issue to the city attorney – who is also busy representing multiple other municipalities, according to Geiger – is that the city attorney will still be heavily involved and relied upon.

Ananur Forma, an opponent of the proposed tower for 182 Camden Street, voiced support for an ordinance that “protects and cares about the citizens of Rockland,” said Forma. “It’s as tricky thing, I realize, to create an ordinance....but we want it tight.”

This is a first attempt for Rockland councilors to create a telecom tower ordinance from scratch.

On the other hand, according to Geiger, the city attorney won’t know initially that the restrictions councilors put in the draft primarily state that an tower cannot be in a residential area, it cannot be in zones T 1, 2, or 3. Together with the setbacks, councilors must make sure that that doesn’t prevent a telecommunications tower from being anywhere in the city. 

“So, our work over the next month is to make sure this doesn’t go too far,” she said, “That there are still places in our city that they can build them on, at the same time protecting residential areas and areas where there is commercial interest and not having a 12-story telecommunications tower.”

Glaser posed several currently unanswered questions: Does that mean bringing in an expert in the telecommunications industry who can explain whether this does stop the carriers from building in the city, or if a workshop with citizens, or a workshop to garner expert advice?

The easy part is sifting through other municipalities’ telecom ordinances, drawing from several concepts and piecing them together for Rockland, according to him. 

“Tailoring it to fit Rockland is the hard part,” he said. 

Reach Sarah Thompson at news@penbaypilot.com