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Havre de Grace council hosting public hearing Thursday on ordinance to regulate cellular infrastructure

Havre de Grace city attorney April Ishak told the City Council on Monday that municipalities must have regulations in place by Jan. 14, in accordance with new federal and state regulations governing the siting of wireless infrastructure.
Havre de Grace city attorney April Ishak told the City Council on Monday that municipalities must have regulations in place by Jan. 14, in accordance with new federal and state regulations governing the siting of wireless infrastructure. (DAVID ANDERSON | AEGIS STAFF /)

The Havre de Grace City Council will host a public hearing Thursday evening on a proposed ordinance to regulate the placement of wireless infrastructure in city-controlled rights of ways.

The public hearing is happening three days after the council voted unanimously to introduce Ordinance 1012 during its meeting Monday evening.

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The council typically meets on the first and third Mondays of the month, and legislation introduced at one meeting is usually subject to a public hearing — and final vote — at the next meeting. But the process is being expedited because municipalities must have regulations in place by Jan. 14, in accordance with new federal and state regulations governing the siting of wireless infrastructure.

“If the city does not have standards in place we will be unable to make any ad hoc decisions on any permits — we won’t even be able to require permits,” City Attorney April Ishak told city leaders.

The public hearing, followed by a special council meeting, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall at 711 Pennington Ave.

Ishak gave her assessment based on her review of regulations approved by the Federal Communications Commission and later adopted by the state. City council members expressed agreement.

“Right now, if the city doesn’t act, we will lose all our rights,” Councilman David Martin said.

Council President David Glenn said the ordinance “is to preserve the historic character and the associated aesthetics for the City of Havre de Grace.”

The legislation applies to small wireless facilities, such as “small cells,” or low-powered stations in a mobile network meant for specific indoor or outdoor areas.

It also applies to “distributed antenna systems” or other pieces of infrastructure that are part of a localized mobile wireless network, as well as support structures, such as utility poles, on which the network infrastructure would be placed, according to the draft ordinance.

City leaders emphasized Monday that it applies only to wireless networks within public rights of way, not private systems within people’s residences. City resident Kirk Smith asked during the public comment period of the meeting if it would apply to people using extensions from their broadband Internet service to improve coverage for their mobile devices in their homes.

“This ordinance is to address adding to existing telephone poles and support systems, not [systems] inside someone’s house,” Martin said in response to Smith’s question.

Ishak, the city attorney, said the city’s director of administration, Patrick Sypolt, and planning director, Ben Martorana, began working on draft legislation about a year and a half ago, but it was put “on the shelf” in mid-2018 as the wireless industry held back on its activities as it awaited the final results of FCC regulations and how the state would implement them.

City officials also wanted to hear commentary from the Maryland Municipal League before proceeding with legislation, according to Ishak. Havre de Grace leaders learned in October that an ordinance has to be in place by Jan. 14, she said.

“The idea is, getting something on the books that will give us some minimal standards to work with,” she said.

She said city leaders can then revisit the issue and develop amendments to the policy “that will more effectively give the city the most local control . . . under the legislation.” That process must be complete by April 15, Ishak said.

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