Ohio Cities Have Say in 5G Aesthetics, Not Much Else

The choice between metal or wood poles is one of the few choices city leaders have to make about impending 5G infrastructure under Ohio state law. A city can require one or the other based on a neighborhood's character.

by Mark Ferenchik, The Columbus Dispatch / January 7, 2020
A bookstore in Columbus, Ohio's German Village. Shutterstock/aceshot1

(TNS) — The state can review applications for poles that will hold equipment for the new 5G cellular wireless technology to see whether they will negatively affect the historic character of neighborhoods.

But state officials still can't prevent companies from putting them up.

"If we feel like there is going to be an adverse effect, is there a way to design (it) so it's less intrusive, to put (the equipment) on an existing pole rather than a new pole?" said Joy Williams, project reviews manager of the State Historic Preservation Office.

On Dec. 23, Verizon began 5G service in Columbus, along with Cleveland and Hampton Roads, Virginia. Verizon's 5G mobile service is now available in 31 U.S. cities.

Here, the service is available Downtown, at Ohio State University, Italian Village, Easton, Polaris, and the Lewis Center area in Delaware County.

The Columbus Department of Public Service has received 666 excavation permit applications for cell tower poles to be placed in city rights-of-way, said Debbie Briner, department spokeswoman.

The city also has received 175 permit applications to mount 5G equipment on existing poles. Most of the applications are from Verizon, with others from AT&T and American Cell, Briner said.

So far, a total of 458 permits have been issued, she said. The city's planning division is reviewing another 87. It cannot prevent poles from going up, but can review applications to see if poles should be wood or metal, or be moved slightly so they don't block entrances, she said.

"Because of state law, we don't have a lot of leeway," she said.

According to Columbus regulations, the city can require a metal pole rather than a wood pole based on the neighborhood's character. New wood poles are strongly discouraged in Downtown, East Franklinton, the University District, German Village, Italian Village, Victorian Village, and other historic districts. Metal poles are considered to be more decorative, Briner said.

Jason Sudy, who chairs the Italian Village Commission, said his preference would be placing the equipment on existing poles.

"We want to respond to the historic care of the village," Sudy said.

"I know that this technology is inevitable," he said. "We've kind of weathered the satellite dish storm."

Jack Decker, of the Victorian Village Commission, said he would like public service officials to at least reach out to area commissions to get feedback.

"At least we could correct some obvious errors," Decker said.

Since 2013, the State Historic Preservation Office has reviewed about 100 small-cell installations. Some were installed in areas such as Polaris and Easton where there are no historic properties.

A section of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires federal agencies consider the effects of projects on historic properties that receive federal funding, permits, licenses or approvals. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation works with the State Historic Preservation Office on reviews.

The new 5G technology will boost cellphone speeds and bandwidth. But it requires transmitters to be placed closer together — every few hundred feet — than 3G or 4G networks. That's because 5G's high-frequency waves don't travel as far as the older frequencies.

Residents of the Olde Towne East neighborhood near Downtown were stunned in December when they learned that a 40-foot-tall 5G tower was going up along Bryden Road and that they had no say in it. The city created the Bryden Road Historic District in 1989.

The State Historic Preservation Office does not have any application for that tower.

The office said that most of the towers that have been installed up to now have been near hospitals and the Ohio State campus. But it is beginning to see more submissions for neighborhoods such as Bryden Road, Victorian Village, German Village and Italian Village.

©2020 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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