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Jacksonville, FL (April 28, 2020) – After months of noticed meetings with constituents and local telecommunications representatives, Councilman Becton helped guide Council Members to their final unanimous vote on Bill 2019-770 during the April 28th City Council meeting.

The new legislation was introduced in October of 2019 alongside Bill 2019-757. Both, bills were introduced as a result of recently passed changes by Tallahassee within FL Statue 337.401 that “Preempted” many of the previously passed requirements which City Council enacted regarding the installation of small cell sites from Council Bill 2018-463.

Local Home Rule was definitely diminished as the Florida Legislators pushed back on previous passed rules enacted on our local level,” Council Member Becton explained. “The wireless telecommunication industry, in not liking what was required of them to install small cell sites within our public rights-of-ways, lobbied at the State level to have them restricted and over turned resulting in new don’t touch standards”. 

The new Bill, 2019-757 was an application that requested multiple waivers for already designed small cell sites under the current standards. These sites ready for installation, desired to be considered as soon as possible, and prior to any future update of the Ordinance Code that Bill 2019-770 might provide but was not anticipated to happen quickly. It is within Chapter 711, Part 4, that these rules exist and provide for general permit conditions for co-location and new site installations. Bill 2019-770 intends to update these standards within Charter 711, Part 4 labeled, Communication Facilities in City Rights–of-Way. Verizon Wireless, the lead applicant who initiated the filing of these bills, desired to see these issues addressed as soon as possible and to allow telecommunication companies, like itself, the ability to install small cell sites in a variety of locations without having to apply for future waivers.

The proposed changes may benefit the telecommunication companies, but residents argued that their community’s and neighborhoods would suffer from the adverse consequences if the legislations passed as is. Almost immediately, Councilman Becton took the helm as an influx of emails and phone calls from residents pleaded Council to oppose the bills.

Councilman Becton is more than familiar with the debate on implementing this new technology having been a part of the committees back in 2018-19 that first discussed this issue as a member of Transportation, Energy and Utilities (TEU) and Land Use and Zoning (LUZ) during his first term on council. During this time, a Special Committee was initiated to research and provide for a through discussion on Small Cell Sites looking to identify rules and guidelines to be added to our local Ordinance Code to manage those installation.

Bill 2017-863 was introduced in December of 2017, followed by Bill 2018-463 which was filed in the following July, both echoing a state law that passed in 2017 prohibiting “local governments from restricting telecommunications companies from installing these cell sites, but allowing local governments the ability to require permits for use within the public rights-of-way. It also provided for local control over regulations as to objective design standards, while still permitting the telecommunication service to be provided.”

The discussion on these two bills was ongoing for nine months. LUZ and TEU Committees held a series of eight joint meetings over the months of April through September of 2018, “in which they engaged in extensive fact-finding and negotiations with representatives of various telecommunications providers and tower leasing companies in how to implement the necessary permitting and objective design standards of those installations.” The permitting and design standards were adopted via 2018-463-E, which City Council approved along with 2017-863 on September 11th of 2018.

Less than a year later, the industry was back in looking to change those standards as drafted by attorneys for Verizon Communications and submitted to the city creating Bill 2019-770. According to the bill summary, 2019-770 is intended “to change numerous provisions of the current code that are problematic for their technology model, which differs from one provider to another based on the manufacturer of their equipment.”

After hearing the uproar of concern from residents and communicating with the wireless companies and as well as State Representatives, Councilman Becton took the lead initiative to engage all participating and concerned parties and direct the discussion at an appropriate pace into the right direction and assist with generating a bill everyone can agree with thru multiple noticed meetings.

The topic of small cell sites inspired some very emotional conversation from residents. The topic of 5G being implemented within neighborhoods, had residents up in arms that these installations would be a determent to their public health, safety and welfare,” Council Member Becton stated. “To lead this discussion, it took a very delicate balance to have a factual discussion, engage in differing opinions and to ultimately find a path to compromise in achieving a Bill that everyone could live with.”

In addition to the numerous one-on-one meetings, conference calls scheduled with residents, stakeholders, local representatives for telecommunication companies, like Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and State Representatives, which included a visit to the State’s Capital, Councilman Becton held six noticed meetings to discuss and dissect Bill 2019-770 and Bill 2019-757 to compose legislation that all participants could approve of.

The first public meeting was held on November 25th of 2019. The group of attendees included Council Members, Wireless Technology Company Representatives and concerns citizens, which they all participated in a discussion of dissecting the bill and addressing requested changes from the original legislation.

Some revisions were simple but others weren’t that easy.  A majority of the changes requested by the industry opened up hours of deliberation with long discussions reviewing the Florida statues, hearing participants arguments regarding interruption of State Statues but each time Council Member Becton was able to find compromise of all parties to be reached. It was the final meeting on February 21th, Councilman Becton was able to adjourn the meeting with a substitute Bill to present to Council that all parties could live with.

The investment of time and attention to these Bill was very important. These small cell sites will be throughout our city and it is was important that we continue to support the objective standards as much as possible to eliminate blight, redundancy and to protect property values of those around their installation,” Council Member Becton acknowledged.  “Therefore, it was my desire to help find those compromises and to provide the leadership to get us to legislation that everyone could support”.

By March, Councilman Becton was able to introduce a substitute at the NCSPHS & TEU Committee meetings that outlined the concluded changes that were reached after having his final noticed meeting back on February 21, 2020. Unfortunately, due to the COVID pandemic the bill was defer until Committees started taking place over Zoom.  Councilman Becton distributed a white paper to Council Members which he read during NCSPHS and TEU on Monday, April 21st.The white paper states:

“I am offering a Substitution for Bill 2019-770 that amends:

Chapter: 711, Part 4, Section: 711.403, 404, 406, 412, 413, 417, 418, 427

Several Years ago, (in 2018) Bill 2018-463, Council passed legislation for regulations regarding Small Cell Installations. Last year, Tallahassee “Preempted” many of those requirements from our Ordinance code by passing FL Statue 337.401.

Therefore, to resolve those conflicts, I chaired a Special Committee with colleagues CM DeFoor and CM Boylan (who was there every step of the way with me) (a Big Thank You!), we worked and spent between over 8 – 10 hours with the Industry representatives (Verizon (Rep. by P. Harden) and AT&T) along with Concerned Citizens (lead by Mr. Scott Kennelly) reconciling those issues.

This Bill is a compromise, whereby everyone got a little bit of what they wanted but not necessarily everything that they desired.

Concerns for installation within neighborhoods was addressed. While that was certainly an issue, the industry contends that we are a long way away from this actually being a reality. But certainly, addressing that issue of concern, we were sensitive to that regard and did make sure that installations would be on lot lines and not in the middle of someone’s property as an example. Mr. Teal is our OGC subject matter expert on this Bill and can answer any specific questions about these changes.”

Both committees, NCSPHS and TEU, passed the bill, but the work on 2019-770 was not yet done. Prior to the LUZ meeting on April 22nd, when 2019-770 was set to be the final committee to take up the Bill, last minute changes were negotiated allowing for additional modifications which included Administrative Deviation options and a clear definition on lot line installations for which both sides continued to negotiate. Councilman Becton added and explained in his white paper and at the LUZ meeting Tuesday evening.

“While most of the concerns that you have received are about 5G, these small cell sites right now are installations of 4G as capacity enhancers for high density and areas of voids within cellular coverage. This is not to say that these small cell sites can not one day be converted to the 5G technology, I wanted to point that out, this is not what you are necessarily seeing. Also, important note: the 5G technology itself is “Preempted” on the Federal Level.

Modifying: Page 18 – Administrative Dev Options (went from 1 to 2 options)

An applicant may request an administrative deviation from: (1) the requirement in section 711.438 for new poles to not be located within 2 feet of a sidewalk for any pole proposed to be located within the Downtown Area as defined in section 656.361.2 or in areas with a Land Use designation of CGC, IL or IH; and (2) any requirement regarding size limitations on width and depth of pole-mounted equipment and size of new and replacement pole diameter if the requested deviation is necessary due to the distinct engineering, configurational or technological requirements associated with the applicant’s Small Wireless Facility or equipment.

Modifying: Page 28 – Location Criteria of a New Pole

In residential areas, poles shall be placed in line with common interior side lot lines, but in the event it is not practicable at that location, poles shall be placed as close as practicable to the common lot line but within the required side yard setback as such is extended into the Right-of-Way or five (5) feet, whichever is greater.

On April 28th, 2019, Council unanimously approved Bill 2019-770 to much accolades from fellow Council members of the process, leadership and huge success that Council Member Becton provided in getting this legislation accomplished.