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Oak Park, River Forest IL to comply with state rules on small wireless facilities

Officials in Oak Park and River Forest will grudgingly comply with a new state law regulating small wireless facilities, which could mean an increase in the amount of wireless stations seen throughout each village.

Illinois Public Act 100-585, the small wireless facilities deployment act, specifies how local authorities may regulate the collection of small wireless facilities. Small wireless facilities are typically smaller installations placed atop existing utility and light poles, and can already be seen in some Illinois municipalities.

Some state officials say the facilities are critical to meet the current technological needs of communities across the state.

Under terms of the act, a unit of local government may not prohibit, regulate or charge for the collection of small wireless facilities. A municipality may, however, require an applicant to obtain one or more permits to collocate a small wireless facility. The city of Chicago is exempt from the new state law.

This month, local elected officials were presented with ordinances for approval, with many expressing dismay at the state’s actions.

The village of Oak Park held a first reading of the new ordinance on July 9, and trustees ultimately approved it July 23. Both passed unanimously.

“We’re kind of in the situation where this usurps home rule authority and we have, for lack of better words, no choice but to abide by the law the state passed,” Oak Park Trustee Dan Moroney said. “It would be nice if we were to apply our own ordinances, but sometimes you have to comply with state law. I think if you set proper specifications, you can still deliver the service to residents that a municipality will want to give. It’s a little unfortunate, but I hope residents realize this because we expect them to pop up throughout the village.”

Moroney said he would have preferred the village be allowed some regulatory options over the facilities, such as allowing them only in public alleys and prohibiting them from being installed within 25 feet of a residential dwelling unit.

Oak Park village attorney Paul Stephanides said the village will seek to regulate the installation of the small wireless facilities as much as it can, adding that carriers are already seeking to install the technology in Oak Park.

“What I’m trying to do with the ordinance is have some standards that are in compliance with the act so it is not granted by right,” Stephanides said. “So there is a village review process, standards for aesthetics and so forth. I know prior to the act, there were two carriers who wanted to locate on the poles. When they heard this act was a great possibility to go into effect, they waited. There’s two in the pipeline, and there’s been several inquiries since then.”

Trustee Deno Andrews cited possible safety concerns as his main opposition to the state law, saying he is worried about what health effects the facilities may have if they are installed close to residential properties.

“This basically allows the state to rent space from us for almost no money, and we have almost no say in where they go and [they can have] as many or as few of these as they want to put in town,” Andrews said. “I think it’s an overreach of state government.”

During its July 9 village board meeting, River Forest trustees unanimously approved a new ordinance to amend its village code to comply with the new state law.

“This ordinance is another regulation, another unfunded mandate forced upon us from the legislature in Springfield,” River Forest Village President Cathy Adduci said. “The village of River Forest supports new and emerging technologies, and we always will. As a non-home rule community, we have no choice but to accept this or look for alternative solutions. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.”

Similar to Oak Park, River Forest Village Administrator Eric Palm said the village will do what it can to regulate the facilities, which includes adopting new design guidelines and standards sometime in August. The village will also amend its code to create small wireless technology as a special use in non-right-of-way situations, however, that likelihood is low as companies appear focused on placing their technology on existing utility poles in public rights-of-way, Palm said.

“The bill provides the village with few regulations of where antennas can actually be placed,” Adduci said. “While we have some ability to regulate the design of the antennas, the majority of those regulations benefit [the wireless companies].”

Illinois State Rep. Chris Welch (D-7th) said he voted against the public act as a way to protect local communities, which he feels should control the installation of the small wireless facilities.

“I believe local municipalities should have the right to negotiate contracts and fees,” Welch said. “Local control is important and should be honored and respected because local elected officials know what’s best for their communities. This law was an end run around our local municipalities by big corporations, and I was disappointed by its passage.”

State Sen. Kim Lightford (D-4th) said she voted for the act because small wireless facilities are “critical” to delivering wireless access to advanced technology, broadband and 911 services to homes, businesses and schools in Illinois.

“We wanted to ensure that Illinois consumers have access to the latest technology and ensure a fair process for wireless technology providers that accounts for the current character of the areas where small wireless facilities could be housed,” Lightford said. “I think we gave municipalities reasonable guidelines to work with while keeping our state at the forefront of technology.”

Lightford said she would continue to monitor Public Act 100-585, as it has a sunset provision of June 1, 2021, when it is expected to be repealed.

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