Local representatives have taken their first step toward curbing the proliferation of cell phone towers in the city’s residential areas.
City Council Member Vincent Gentile was a prime co−sponsor of legislation which would require companies that apply to the city’s Department of Buildings to install cell phone equipment on city buildings to send written notice to the community board and council member who represent the location prior to applying for the necessary permits.
In addition, the legislation — which was introduced earlier this month — would require communications companies to attach identifying tags to their equipment, containing the permit number and a phone number to call in case there’s any concern about the installation. It would also mandate the companies to make a good−faith effort to locate their antennae and other equipment in non−residential areas.
Community notification is an important first step in controlling the placement of the antennae, said Gentile, who joined with City Council members Lewis Fidler and Peter Vallone, Jr., in introducing the bill.
“The biggest problem we’ve had,” said Gentile, “is that some of the installations were being protested after they’d already started going up, so we’re always playing catch−up.” That was the case, he recalled, when the school community at Public School 185 fought the installation of cell towers across the street from the school, as well as when parents and educators at St. Anselm’s School joined to fight an installation across the street.
“It’s not a panacea,” Gentile noted of the bill, “but it does take some important steps forward in checks and balances in the cell phone tower controversy.” Most importantly, “It gives us the opportunity to put a response into action before it’s a fait accompli.”
Designing legislation that would protect communities is challenging, because of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, which basically prohibits municipalities from denying cell phone companies the ability to install transmission equipment, though it does allow local governments some say over such issues as placement and construction.
The bill, has been “a long time coming,” Gentile noted, in large part because of concerns from other councilmembers over whether any legislation they passed would stand up to challenges, as well as whether limitations on installation of cell phone transmission equipment could negatively impact cell phone reception for constituents.