Cell towers may be a necessary part of modern infrastructure, but many residents don't want to live next to one. However, it seems that cities can't do much to stop that. Tiffany Stoiber/Now Media Group
A bill passed by the state legislators in June would increase a municipality's power to control cell towers, but not in a way that would greatly impact the recently proposed cell tower in Franklin.
According to State Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, Bill 348, approved by the Assembly on June 21, would return some power back to counties and other municipalities after a 2013 law took most control out of the hands of the local governments and "shifted the pendulum too far."
Among other things, the bill would require setbacks equal to the height of a cell tower from a single-family residential property line. So, a 100-foot tower would have to be at least 100 feet from the line of a property zoned for single family homes.
But other provisions of the 4-year-old law would remain intact.
Currently, the only reason a city could deny a proposed cell tower would be if the developer did not give sufficient information about the tower.
"(The bill) gives the local municipality more input," Kuglitsch said. "And it would protect the single-family residents more than what was available in the past."
The bill, then, would add one more reason why large cell towers – which Kuglitsch referred to as "macro towers" – could be denied.
State Sen. David Craig said he would also be supportive of this bill, because it gives some power back to the cities.
"It's probably not as far as the municipalities would want to go," Craig said. "But we do have a very serious issue related to cell service that we have to make sure that you have a sound and reliable service area, as you would for any other utility."
However, even if this bill were signed to law today, the cell tower recently proposed in Franklin would remain largely unaffected.
Under the change, the U.S. Cellular tower proposed at Faith Presbyterian Church, 3800 W. Rawson Ave., might have to be located slightly farther from the property line, but no other restrictions would apply.
At a plan commission meeting June 22, Franklin Mayor Steve Olson said that city officials were approving the tower "not because we want to, but because we have to."
As it stands, there isn't much a municipality like Franklin can do when it comes to cell towers, city officials say.
The 2013 law that left municipalities like Franklin with very minimal power to regulate cell towers was meant to level the playing field for cell service providers, state officials say.
Both Kuglitsch and Craig say that the law was a response to municipalities using their power to essentially – as Kuglitsch put it – "hold wireless providers hostage."
"Some municipalities, not all, but some bad actors were holding the wireless providers hostage saying (for example), 'We’ll give you this location, but you'll have to help with the new park over here,' " Kuglitsch explained.
Craig described the situation as "a revenue-generating scheme by a limited number of bad-acting municipalities."
While some municipalities might feel like the power they are left with is too minimal, Bill 348 might offer more control over new technology in the future.
This bill would also establish a framework for future developments in cell phone service, like 5G technology.
According to Kuglitsch, the 5G technology requires some new, smaller structures to be built. Since they are closer to three feet tall, much smaller than a macro tower, they can be attached to things like light poles.
The bill would specifically allow the technology in right of ways, and allow cities to have a bit more say in where they are placed.
"We're going to bring in new technology, and we're also going to give the municipalities some of that control back where (cell providers) can't put (the 5G equipment) everywhere," Kuglisch said.
He also noted that nearby states – including Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, and Michigan – having similar legislation.
Though Bill 348 has been passed by the assembly, it would still have to pass in the Senate, and then be signed into law by the governor. Craig said he was hopeful the bill could go through the senate by the end of the current session.