Verizon drops plans for wireless antenna array in downtown Nevada City | TheUnion.com

Verizon drops plans for wireless antenna array in downtown Nevada City

A more than three-year battle between Verizon Wireless and Nevada City is over. For now.

Last week, Verizon's attorneys sent a letter to Nevada City's city council, formally withdrawing its use permit application for a screened rooftop wireless facility at 109 North Pine Street.

"It's a small victory," Nevada City Council member Reinette Senum said.

But Verizon now wants to install "small cell facilities" on existing power or telephone poles in downtown Nevada City, a move that has Senum concerned.

According to Senum, local jurisdictions have little control over these microwave radiation antennas called "small cells" on utility poles, street lamps, traffic lights and street signs. In October, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill backed by the cell phone industry that would have made it easier to install the small cell facilities. Senum was one of those who lobbied against the bill, arguing it created a risk to public health because of the dangers of radiation and electromagnetic frequencies emitted by cell towers.

The bill would have downsized the role played by city and county officials in setting limits on where the equipment for new 5G cellular service would be placed. Local governments would have had less power to unilaterally block the installation of the devices, which Brown said in his veto message was a problem.

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But Senum said federal legislation now is pending that would accomplish the same "hijacking" of local authority over the placement of such equipment.

Senum said she has asked to place a request for a six-month moratorium on the city council agenda. She wants to put together a telecommunications ordinance for Nevada City, that would give the city more power over placement of small cell facilities.

Up on the roof

Verizon had wanted to install eight cellular antennas and an HVAC condenser. The top of the antennas and supporting infrastructure would have reached 50 feet above the ground, amounting to a range between 3.5 feet and 9.5 feet above the height of the building parapet. The antennas would have been visible from several public vantage points within downtown Nevada City.

The request was first presented to Nevada City in January 2015, spurring debates on design, the impact on property values and on the historical characteristics of downtown Nevada City. The planning commission eventually denied the application in September 2015 after strong opposition to the project from residents, due to concerns that it could degrade Nevada City's aesthetic and create possible adverse health effects related to electromagnetic frequencies.

Verizon subsequently filed an appeal but asked for two continuances of the public hearing in order to investigate the viability of alternative sites. In September 2017, the city council voted to uphold the planning commission's decision to deny Verizon's application.

Verizon could have sought a judicial review of that denial, said Nevada City City Attorney Hal DeGraw. But the city and the wireless corporation instead agreed to a six-month "tolling" agreement so the parties could continue to explore alternative locations in the historic core of Nevada City. That agreement was then extended a second time, he said.

According to Senum, one of the proposals floated by Verizon would have placed its antennas within City Hall.

Verizon's decision to formally withdraw its application means it has given up the right to file any legal action to review the council's 2016 decision, DeGraw said.

According to the letter, Verizon has thoroughly reviewed alternative sites but has not been able to identify a viable facility in downtown Nevada City that could be approved and installed in a timely manner.

Instead, Verizon will implement an "interim solution" and provide service from outside the city through a co-location with an existing nearby facility.

"Verizon anticipates that increasing demand will require several additional small cell facilities to ensure adequate network capacity," the letter stated. "Verizon Wireless will review placement of small cell facilities in downtown Nevada City."

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.

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