ST. PETE BEACH – Wireless communications companies seeking to install new 5G towers in the city will have to wait a few months.
St. Pete Beach commissioners voted unanimously July 25 to pass an ordinance on first reading that creates a 120-day moratorium on submitting applications and receiving permits for any wireless communications facility, tower or antenna. The move is designed to give the city time to amend its land development code regarding cell towers.
The action comes on the heels of the Florida Legislature passing House Bill 687, also known as the “Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Deployment Act,” which prohibits local and county governments from charging for the installation of small wireless antennas in public right-of-way. However, local governments can pass regulations for accepting, processing and issuing wireless permits.
“The governor signed this bill that was greatly opposed by cities but allows the smaller cell towers, better known as 5G, to be located on city right-of-way,” said City Manager Wayne Saunders. “There are certain things we can do to help regulate it but we need a little more time, like most other cities, to get an ordinance together to do what we can to regulate these.”
City leaders are concerned the new equipment will be installed along city sidewalks on Gulf Boulevard, which would cause a safety issue for pedestrians on sidewalks that are already very narrow.
City Attorney Andrew Dickman said moratoriums are very common in situations involving legislation where cities are asked to take an application.
“This particular act puts us in as a regulatory authority but it also puts us in a place where we really can’t deny it,” Dickman said. “But we can regulate it.”
He said the current city code has provisions for wireless permits, which will likely be tweaked to cover the new state mandate.
Commissioner Melinda Pletcher called the legislation a case of the state violating home rule.
“To me this is so unfortunate,” she said, “when we’re trying to beautify and create wow factors in our public realm, and only to have the state mandate the fact that we are required to allow this to happen. It’s just wrong. It’s wrong on so many levels.”
Co-location of the towers, or the ability to put the new towers on existing utilities such as street light poles, is something city leaders will examine, said Saunders. The cities of St. Petersburg and Orlando have enacted recent ordinances that may serve as a model for St. Pete Beach.
“Co-location is something that is encouraged (in the legislation),” Saunders said. “The St. Petersburg ordinance and I’ve looked at the Orlando ordinance, and there’s language in there about co-location. So that’s obviously the first route you want to go.”
Saunders said another key question would be fees to the city if the cell phone company wants to locate on another city utility. That amount, if applicable, would need to be determined.
Further discussion is expected on the topic Aug. 8.
In other action, commissioners:
• Established a tentative 2018 tax millage rate of 3.15 mills, which would produce $555,839 in new tax revenue due to a 7.2 percent increase in property values. Public hearings on the proposed rate and the proposed budget are set Sept. 5 and Sept. 19.
• Approved an $85,221 contract with Tampa Truck Center for a 2017 Freightliner dump truck, which will replace a 16-year-old model that is projected to be worth $14,000 at trade-in. The new truck will be used to haul concrete, shell and dirt, and for picking up bulk materials from suppliers.
• Tabled an ordinance concerning an amendment to the city code regarding alcohol consumption on city beaches in conjunction with hotel cabanas. Further discussion on the ordinance is expected Aug. 8.