Ashland could reconsider cellphone antenna ruling

The Ashland City Council may reconsider a recent vote that could have led to a loosening of rules on where companies can install cellphone antennas.

Mayor John Stromberg said this week the public may not have had a chance to offer opinions on the antenna issue before the City Council vote on Nov. 15.

The council directed staff to develop an ordinance that would allow cell companies to install antennas at new sites — as long as they wouldn't have visual or aesthetic impacts.

Before the vote, council members had been considering tightening rules on cellphone companies. The public had chances to comment about the proposal to add regulations.

A cellphone company that didn't want to use sites with existing antennas would have had to hire a third party to analyze its reasons for not co-locating. A third-party analysis would have cost $3,500 to $5,000.

At the Nov. 15 meeting, Councilman Russ Silbiger voiced his concerns that the city could run into legal trouble if it regulated cell antennas that have no visual or aesthetic impacts, such as antennas that are hidden behind building facades.

Stromberg said this week he may have unintentionally pushed the council into a vote about Silbiger's concern when he asked the councilman whether he wanted to make a motion on the issue.

When Silbiger did so, council members then voted, 3-3, to not require co-location for cell antennas that have no visual or aesthetic impacts. As mayor, Stromberg cast the tie-breaking vote.

"I'm concerned about the fact that there wasn't public input," Stromberg said last week. "Suddenly we were going on a tack that they (the public) hadn't had a chance to give input on. Russ wasn't intending to make a motion. The process got ahead of our thinking."

Stromberg said he will ask council members to reconsider the cellphone issue at the City Council's next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 6. The council will have to vote on whether to reconsider the issue. After the vote on Nov. 15, Stromberg said some residents believed the council had done a tricky maneuver to weaken cellphone antenna regulations.

Stromberg said he and council members did not intend to act without public opinion.

Controversy over cellphone antenna placement erupted in 2010, when AT&T wanted to install a dozen antennas behind a facade on top of Ashland Street Cinemas.

The City Council rejected AT&T's request, saying the company didn't present enough information to show it wasn't feasible to install the antennas in spots around town that already had antennas.

The council also said AT&T didn't demonstrate it needed the antennas to deal with a gap in cellphone coverage.

Many residents opposed AT&T's plan because of their concerns that cell antenna radio frequency waves may harm their health.

Federal law bars communities from considering possible health effects when deciding whether to allow cellphone antennas.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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