(TNS) — Charles Abbot saw the no-parking signs in front of his Bryden Road house in the Olde Town East neighborhood and thought that crews would be working on waterlines.
He discovered instead that a crew would be erecting a 40-foot cellphone tower in the public right of way between the sidewalk and the curb.
"Total surprise. Absolutely total surprise," Abbot said.
Others living nearby in the neighborhood east of Downtown also were stunned that the city or companies didn't give residents any say about where cell-service providers can put up the towers for the new 5G — fifth-generation cellular wireless — technology.
"They really didn't create a vehicle for public input into placement," Franklin Avenue resident Candy Watkins said. "They could pop up outside your bedroom window."
A lot more are going to pop up as telecommunications companies gear up for the next wave of wireless technology.
In December 2016, a state law was approved that allowed companies to build towers in public rights of way without consent or regulation from local governments.
The law was overturned in June 2018 when a judge in Franklin County Common Pleas Court ruled in favor of 50 cities and villages that argued the law violated the state's single-subject rule because the cell-tower issue had been included in a bill that dealt with other topics as well.
Another bill was crafted and passed that allows municipalities to create design guidelines, sets a maximum height of new pole towers at 40 feet, and limits the number of applications that can be submitted together to 30.
"We can't have 300 dropped on us in 30 days," said Stephen Sayre, director of special projects for Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther.
But because of that new state law, municipalities also cannot take the placement of the poles through the zoning process, Sayre said.
"If you ask most residents, most want 5G service," Sayre said. But while 3G has taller towers spaced farther part, the faster 5G service is designed to have shorter towers spaced closer to each other.
The city is encouraging companies to place the equipment on existing light and utility poles.
Verizon spokesman David Weissmann said the company has announced that Columbus will be an early 5G city.
"We are working toward that, following all local and state requirements and working closely with the city to ensure aesthetic consistency," he said in an emailed statement. Weissmann said Verizon's networks are built and operate under Federal Communications Commission guidelines.
Bryden Road is in a designated city historic district, where residents must get city approval for paint colors, roofs, decks and other home improvements. So residents there are concerned about how new cell poles placed in front of houses will affect the neighborhood.
"Why do they have to be between the street and the sidewalks?" Bryden Road resident Madison McRae said.
Kathleen Bailey, who leads the Near East Area Commission, said she has no concern about the poles or the technology.
"It's the 21st century," Bailey said. "You want this stuff; you just don't want it on your street."
The question is how to weigh the character of the neighborhood with today's needs. "It's a balancing act," she said.
Columbus officials have created design guidelines for the poles, which are painted to match the standards for those areas, said Christopher Lohr, a Columbus planning manager.
"I think the real question is: Why isn't there a public process?" Lohr said. "By state law, there isn't any mechanism at this point."
Grove City Mayor Ike Stage said he is not aware of any tower being installed in his city.
"We were blindsided by this to some degree," he said.
"It's out of our hands."
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