Boise considers changes to wireless internet transmitter ordinance

The City of Boise is shaking up its code regulating 5th generation wireless transmitters and how people are notified about them coming to their neighborhood.

On Tuesday night, Boise City Council held an hours-long hearing discussing a new ordinance to implement design standards for the transmitters, define three different types of wireless facilities and change up the process for how they are approved in neighborhoods. This new ordinance will bring the city into compliance with federal regulations and a recent court decision prohibiting cities from denying wireless companies from expanding their 5G network.

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What’s changing?

Currently, a wireless communication system on a new pole between 25 and 45 feet in low-density residential neighborhoods requires a neighborhood meeting, noticing to neighbors within a several hundred-foot radius and a public hearing to earn a conditional use permit. Boise City Council and Planning & Zoning have heard several of these applications in the past year, which often result in hearings stretching multiple hours with comments that often reference conspiracy theories.

To get in compliance with the new federal requirements staff says largely bar the city from saying no to the transmitters, city staff recommended removing the requirement for a CUP for these towers. The ordinance also suggested no internal administrative review for devices being installed on existing polls as long as design criteria are met. A CUP, including a public hearing and notice to the surrounding area, would still be required for new poles exceeding 45 feet in height in lower-density residential areas.

A ‘heads up’ about towers instead of legal noticing

City Council Members mulled the ordinance at length, asking multiple Verizon representatives and city staff questions throughout the hearing.

City Council President Pro Tem Lisa Sanchez and City Council Member Patrick Bageant said they understood citizens’ desire to know what is coming to their neighborhood, but keeping a noticing requirement would create unfair expectations that residents could change the outcome.

“This is just really hard from a notice perspective because realistically many concerned citizens will receive notice and want to object and stop something they just won’t be able to stop because of the federal rules,” Bageant said. “Notice isn’t serving the function of allowing an interested party to intervene, aside from the aesthetic things.”

To address this, the city opted to change the ordinance to require a notice from the company to inform adjacent property owners of the project and the city’s new requirement that the company restores their landscaping to how it was before the work began.

The ordinance with these changes will be voted on by city council next month.

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