Lake Saint Louis has imposed a six-month moratorium on the processing of applications and approval of new communications cell towers to allow the city to review how it can regulate them.
City officials fear that state legislation signed into law in 2014 that limits the authority of Missouri cities and counties to restrict towers may lead to more being built with little local control over them.
City Administrator Paul Markworth said the legislation dramatically limits the city’s ability to review site plans for towers and the city’s current ordinance isn’t in compliance. Federal officials have given local governments authority to impose a 180-day moratorium to review their ordinances.
“We’ve got to go back and rewrite them,” Markworth said. “We’re trying to get our arms around this.”
The city’s Board of Aldermen approved a resolution at their April 18 meeting calling for the 180-day moratorium. “We thought that this would be in the best interest of the community,” Markworth said.
The major fear is that the new laws will prompt a proliferation of cell towers throughout the state and in cities, including some placed in city rights of way. Markworth said some of the towers may be 120 feet tall, and could be located “on the side of the road, next to the sidewalk.”
“It’s a big deal,” Markworth said. One firm may be making inquiries to local cell towers in 20 cities around the state, including as many as five in Lake Saint Louis, he said. He added that the city has received one inquiry in the last few months but has no towers under review.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed four bills into law in 2014 that impose 19 new restrictions on how local governments can restrict cellphone towers.
The restrictions include not requiring the removal of existing facilities as a condition for approving an application, evaluating an application based on the availability of other potential locations, dictating the type of wireless facilities or infrastructure, limiting application fees, limiting landscaping, and setting deadlines for deciding on an application.
The bills were supported by the telecommunications industry as a means of streamlining local regulations that have slowed the installation of high-speed Internet service throughout Missouri.
The legislation passed after a 2013 state law was struck down by a Cole County judge. But the laws were opposed by the Missouri Municipal League, which represents 670 municipalities throughout the state.
Municipal League officials said the legislation undermines municipal authority over land use and zoning regulations and eliminates the local review to protect property values and citizen input.
Richard Sheets, deputy director of the Missouri Municipal League, said on April 19 that legislation limits zoning authority that local governments typically have on private property. “It puts it [towers] in the right of way,” he said.
Sheets said it’s not unusual for municipalities to impose a moratorium to allow them to correct local ordinances to correspond to state law. A six-month moratorium was one of the few options left open to local governments by the legislation, he said.
Sheets said the league has appealed the state legislation to the Missouri Supreme Court, which may be getting close to hearing the case.
Meanwhile, Markworth said the moratorium has nothing to do with the improvements made to the county’s emergency communications system. St. Charles County built 12 new towers to improve radio communications for police, fire, ambulance and other emergency responders.
Those towers were located on public land such as parks or on private property. Sheets said placing towers on private land may allow municipalities more control over zoning.