The new St. John’s policy for cellphone tower locations is toothless, according to one councillor, but the deputy mayor is counting on residents to enforce it.
City council approved a new siting protocol for wireless towers, a plan that city staff had been working on even before residents protested Bell Mobility's plan to put a cellphone tower off McLoughlan Street, near St. Mary’s Elementary school, in August.
Coun. Tom Hann, chairman of the city’s planning and development committee, said a few changes were made to the city’s protocol after the federal government announced changes last month to industry regulations, including a rule that wireless companies must consult with communities when building a tower, regardless of the height. Previously, companies could build without consultation if the tower were less than 15 metres tall, such as Bell’s planned tower.
Hann said the new protocol suggests companies consult with the city before an application is made.
“This will identify any problems and they would be, as we say, nipped in the bud before they even go through the process,” he said. “We don’t want towers located in residential areas or apartment zones, near schools or any recreation areas.”
Ward 2 Coun. Jonathan Galgay supported the protocol, but said it’s a policy that is not binding on the federal government. Industry Canada has the final decision on tower locations.
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“This is a policy, and only that: a policy or protocol,” he said. “It’s not a binding piece of legislation or governing policy that has any real teeth.”
Galgay said he’s worried the city’s policy may raise “false expectations” of the city’s ability to stop towers from being located in residential areas.
Other councillors, though, said the Bell example — the company is looking for another location for its tower — shows that companies will listen to residents.
“The bottom line is the consumers will enforce this, as they did in the West End,” said Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth. “The consumers spoke up. Consumers spoke back, and they got a response.”
Mayor Dennis O’Keefe acknowledged the city doesn’t get to make the final decision on where a tower should go, but said the city can make it difficult for companies that ignore its recommendations.
“It’s only a matter of respect,” he said. “We have a protocol, and just work with us and everything will be fine. Cross us, and you’re in for a racket. Simple as that. We know how to do rackets.”