An application to install a small cell tower in a residential neighborhood on Mercer Island has been withdrawn by the developer following push-back from residents.
The development company Crown Castle, which has been installing small cell towers across the island as part of the 5G rollout, withdrew its application during the last week of July. The tower was proposed to be placed at 4558 46th St. Southeast, but following resident input, the developer decided to relocate the tower to an existing utility pole.
The announcement was made on the city’s Let’s Talk website. The city said Crown Castle found the existing pole, at Southeast 47th St. and 91st Ave Southeast still met its technical specifications and the company will submit a new application.
“It definitely seems like Crown Castle, they understand from their business perspective that it’s easier to find a location that’s acceptable to residents,” said Mercer Island ombudsman Alison Van Gorp. “They seemed very willing to work with the neighbors to find something that would just be a better fit.”
Van Gorp said the decision was a win-win, as the pole needs to be replaced and Crown Castle can install it without fighting the community. She said in this instance the city was happy the company was willing to take initiative and work with the city and community to find a new location.
“They were very proactive — the city sent them our official comments as well as all the residential comments we received,” she said.
Kevin Chester lives in the neighborhood, and started a group called Neighbors Against Pole Pollution. He said he was happy with the decision to relocate the structure. Chester also said the city handled residents’ concerns well.
In particular, he said the city passing interim rules in January which restricted where small cells could be installed was helpful.
“Mercer Island city management really did something important for the Island in January — they were very proactive with small cell rules,” he said.
The Ellis Pond small cell tower was one of 46 applications the city has received. According to an Aug. 14 press release, some 39 have been determined to comply with the city’s interim small cell rules and would be approved. While the city can limit some aspects of small cell instillation, under recently passed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules, it cannot prevent small cells from being installed. Several cities across the country filed an appeal of the rules.
Mercer Island’s interim rules include provisions which try to minimize aesthetic impacts. It further plans to adopt permanent rules to limit noise and require power lines to be placed underground and create incentives.
The FCC has set its sights on winning a new global technology race to make the U.S. the first country to successfully roll out 5G. The technology is supposed to allow wireless technology to rapidly advance and further pave the way for data-intensive products like self-driving vehicles. It could also allow for interconnected “smart city” technology and the Internet-of-Things, futuristic-sounding concepts which could automate everything from cars to toaster ovens.
Cities across Puget Sound and the Eastside have been swamped with applications from contractors, working for corporate mobile giants, to install small cell towers. An article from last year found that Bellevue, Newcastle, Kirkland and Issaquah had also seen applications to install 5G infrastructure from T-Mobile and Verizon.