The Keene City Council has approved an ordinance regulating the placement of small-cell wireless facilities but without a proposed moratorium on the acceptance of applications for 5G facilities.
A small-cell wireless facility is an antenna that is mounted on a building or utility pole.
The council voted unanimously to approve the body of the ordinance, which will dictate where small-cell facilities can be located. However, the vote on scrapping the moratorium was much closer, with eight of the 15 councilors voting in favor.
The two votes followed months of debate over the safety of 5G facilities, which use higher-frequency radio waves that some worry could be harmful to human health. The moratorium would have expired just a few months after a report on the health effects of 5G is expected to be released by the state.
However, Councilor Kate Bosley said her thinking on that matter changed when she realized that — although there’s little reason to believe there will be a large demand for 5G facilities in Keene in the near future — it was important to get the ordinance on the books. Bosley is chairwoman of the council’s planning, licenses and development committee, which last week voted 3-2 to recommend the council abandon the moratorium idea.
“There’s no evidence at all at this point that any of these applications are coming to Keene,” Bosley said during the council’s Thursday meeting, held via the teleconferencing program Zoom. “What there is evidence for is that people are interested in putting small cells in city right-of-way for 4G use. We do need to have some guidelines. If an application came ... right now, we would not have the ability to regulate whatsoever.”
However, some councilors expressed concerns about opening the city up to 5G facilities before knowing the potential health effects of the new technology.
Councilor Robert Williams spoke in favor of the moratorium, saying Keene should wait until there’s more information on 5G from the state. He said this would provide the city with an opportunity to develop a better understanding of the issues at hand.
“I feel that as a city council, we have a responsibility to [do] due diligence here,” Williams said. “What this state process offers us is a chance to do due diligence, not just to evaluate it based on our own feelings about what the scientific validity of this is, but rather to go through a debit/credit process where all of the evidence is systematically evaluated, so we can come up with an answer that everyone can be comfortable with.”
A recent report from the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection found no evidence to suggest that the electromagnetic waves associated with 5G networks are likely to impact health negatively.
Another issue raised involved the potential for a lawsuit against the ordinance. At a meeting of the planning, licenses and development committee last month, Beth Cooley, assistant vice president of state legislative affairs for the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, told committee members that the ordinance would violate state and federal law.
Cooley urged the committee to reconsider some elements of the ordinance, but members voted unanimously to recommend it anyway. At the time, City Attorney Thomas Mullins said he believed the ordinance was ready to proceed, and as for potential legal challenges, the city would “deal with those issues as they arise.”
In March, councilors had voted 10-2 to block, until January, applications from service providers hoping to launch 5G.
In other news, the council approved a request from Modestman Brewing to serve beer on its sidewalk patio, after discussing whether there would also be food available while alcohol was being served. The Main Street brewery has a small kitchen that is open during all business hours, and owner Ash Sheehan also runs the Guru Food Truck behind the brewery.
The council also approved a pair of resolutions aimed at offering a break to local businesses and residents who are facing economic struggles due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The city will abate one month’s rent to businesses that rent space from the city, and Keene property taxpayers will have a three-month grace period before they start accruing interest if they are unable to pay their taxes by the due date, which will be coming up next month.
However, City Assessor Dan Langille has stressed that it’s still important for those who are able to pay their taxes on time to do so.
Both items were unanimously recommended last week by the council’s finance, organization and personnel committee.
The council will convene for its next regular meeting on June 4 at 7 p.m. The meeting will include a public hearing to discuss the proposed 2020-21 city budget.