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Lake Saint Louis approves changes to code involving telecommunications towers

Lake Saint Louis has upgraded its code regulating telecommunications towers so the structures won’t fall on a vehicle, person or house, but that may be as far as the city can go.

The city’s Board of Aldermen voted 4-0 to approve an ordinance updating the city’s code at a Sept. 6 meeting. Aldermen Karen Vennard [Ward 2] and Jason Law [Ward 3] were absent.

State and federal law now restricts the zoning authority cities have over cell towers on private property.

State legislation signed into law by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon in 2014 imposed 19 restrictions on how local governments can restrict cell towers. The legislation was supported by the telecommunications industry as a means of streamlining local regulations, which they said slowed the installation of high speed Internet services in Missouri.

The city’s new bill will not allow any building structure other than a parking lot or tower building with a “fall zone” equal to the height of the tower, to prevent nearby things from being hit if a tower falls down. The fall zone under the city’s old ordinance was half the tower height.

City Administrator Paul Markworth said local governments now have limited control over towers outside of public health and safety issues regarding where a tower might fall over. There is no local control over radio frequencies. The result may be more towers being erected with little local control.

The city has tried to delay the inevitable. In April, Lake Saint Louis imposed a 180-day moratorium on the processing of applications and approval of new communications cell towers to allow the city to review how it can regulate them. Federal officials gave local governments authority to impose the moratorium to review their ordinances.

But with the moratorium ending soon, the city was poised to update its code. The actual updates make few changes, but recognizes that state and federal law preempts it.

The 19 restrictions include items such as limiting local oversight over removal of existing towers, application fees, the type of wireless facilities and time limits on processing applications.

During the moratorium, Lake Saint Louis had indications from at least one company that they might be interested in building 100-foot fiberglass towers in the city. The same company has asked for a meeting with the city to discuss an amended proposal for 75-foot wooden towers. No formal applications have been submitted to the city.

O’Fallon’s City Council also recently passed a bill that helps define the city’s scope of discretion regarding construction of towers in public right-of-way areas, though that discretion is limited, according to some.

“No matter what the city tries to do, the city doesn’t have any control,” O’Fallon Councilmember Mike Pheney [Ward 5] said. “I just get upset not being able to say ‘hey, don’t put it [a tower] by a daycare center.'”

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