RPB Council OKs Cellular Rules But Agrees To Future Updates

The Royal Palm Beach Village Council.

The Royal Palm Beach Village Council put in place a new ordinance regulating wireless communications Thursday, Oct. 5, but not until after promising to continue updating the ordinance after listening to objections from several wireless service providers.

The village’s temporary moratorium on new cellular phone technology put in place as the village updated its wireless communication ordinance expired on Sept. 30. Village staff has been working since the end of 2016 to tailor the code to let industry providers install new technology in the village that will bring services such as 5G capabilities to local residents.

“We are clearly committed to working with the industry and to review their input and their comments, and we will be making some probably significant revisions based on the outcome of that review process,” Mayor Fred Pinto said. “However, we cannot in good conscience leave the village exposed by not having something on the books at this point in time. So, I think the prudent thing to do is to move forward with this second reading.”

Communities across the state have been updating their wireless communication ordinances to comply with new state regulations.

Representatives of Verizon Wireless and AT&T made public comments at the meeting, both asking for a postponement on the ordinance. Janna Lhota, an attorney for Verizon Wireless, said there was an issue with timing regarding the passing of the ordinance and the communication between the village and the industry.

“We are not aware that the village complied with the notice provision… that requires notice of this ordinance to be provided to the secretary of state 10 days prior to the first reading,” Lhota said. “The reason for that is to provide, in a single place, a clearinghouse for telecommunications providers to get notice of the ordinance to be able to provide meaningful comment.”

Lhota said comments submitted by Verizon prior to the first reading on Sept. 19 were not responded to until Monday, Oct. 2.

“We only heard back from the village attorney with respect to our comments this past Monday,” Lhota said. “Admittedly, there are certain items that we have yet to agree on and may never agree, but there certainly are provisions in here, and the document that we received was a revised document because there are a number of terms in this ordinance that they acknowledged needed to be revised to comply with [House Bill] 687.”

Vice Mayor Richard Valuntas wanted to know if the village had followed the 10-day period that Lhota mentioned.

“I cannot answer that for sure because Keith Davis from my office was handling this ordinance,” Village Attorney Jennifer Ashton said. “What I will tell you is that we have advertised a moratorium. We’ve had multiple discussions publicly since February.”

Ashton said that when they began to update the ordinance, the village notified industry service providers during the period they were receiving applications from them to install new technologies in village rights-of-way, which was as early as the end of 2016.

“So, for anyone to say that the industry did not know this was going on, I’m having a hard time understanding that when we’ve been in communication with industry folks for the past eight months,” Ashton said.

Ashton said the majority of the comments that Lhota provided, and which were provided by Verizon, were clarification comments versus remarks regarding the ordinance language being inconsistent with the new state law.

She said the village would be willing to update the language.

“Those comments will be coming back. Some of the stuff, [Davis] has not agreed with, but that’s OK,” Ashton said. “We all have different interpretations of the law.”

With the preparations and post-Hurricane Irma recovery, Ashton said there has not been time to address every comment that has been sent in to staff in recent weeks.

“We didn’t want to make half changes tonight when there may be other changes,” Ashton said. “Why not just do a comprehensive revision ordinance at a later date when we’ve accumulated everyone’s comments, and we can compose something more comprehensive? I don’t want to do this piecemeal. That has happened in other cities, and it’s a big mess.”

Councilman Jeff Hmara weighed in on the concern for updating the ordinance for now in order to make potential changes later.

“We need to get something on the books, so this is that something with a commitment to continue to work with the industry on any further revisions through an intended set of changes to the ordinance where there is agreement,” he said.

Hmara made a motion to approve the updated ordinance for wireless communications in the village, complying with the new state law. Seconded by Valuntas, and the motion passed 5-0.

Also at the meeting, the council approved an authorization for Village Manager Ray Liggins to contract Aquatic Vegetation Control for aquatic vegetation maintenance services for the village’s canal system.

The staff report specified that the contract won’t exceed $133,500. The authorization also involved the approval needed to negotiate with the Indian Trail Improvement District a cost share for Aquatic Vegetation Control to provide services in the M-1 Canal that won’t exceed $64,200.

“This is a competent company for treating the waterway and to the depths of our canals, so what we’re authorizing is for from the water’s edge into the middle of the canal, and we are comfortable with this company and their ability to do that,” Liggins said.

Councilwoman Selena Smith made a motion to approve the contract with Aquatic Vegetation Control, seconded by Valuntas. It passed 5-0.