City-parish leaders and neighborhood groups, after forming a task force and seeking legal counsel, plan to amend the local ordinance governing the implementation of small cell towers.
AT&T began installing the towers last year as a precursor to bringing 5G technology to Baton Rouge, but resident complaints over towers in their neighborhoods prompted Mayor Sharon Weston Broome to temporarily suspend the buildout, allowing time to address concerns.
Meanwhile, neighborhood groups have formed a 5G cell tower task force, led by Gary Patureau of the Tara Civic Association, and are working with Daigle Fisse & Kessenich Law Firm, which represents homeowner associations across Baton Rouge, to sort through legal issues, FCC rules and the local ordinance.
The task force’s attorneys are proposing two courses of action: 1) a legal memorandum surveying laws applicable to locating and permitting cell towers, what control the city-parish has within its own right of way and laws adopted in other communities, and 2) draft an amendment to the existing ordinance.
The amendment would require prior notice to property owners in the vicinity of proposed towers, with a procedure for residents to voice concerns before permits are issued. It would also set criteria the city-parish must consider before issuing tower permits, such as the effect on aesthetics and property values and alternative locations.
“Our goal is not to stop 5G, but to bring some common sense into how it’s handled in Baton Rouge,” Patureau says. “You can’t have a taking of property. The issue is so deep—communities across the country are fighting this battle themselves.”
Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel says the mayor’s office is working with small groups and the task force to review the local ordinance, adopted in 2017 and reworked in 2018. Baton Rouge was ahead of other communities in adopting guidelines, he says, because officials wanted to ensure the city would be ready for the 5G rollout.
AT&T has installed an estimated 139 towers in Baton Rouge, with some 39 in residential areas, Gissel says. A few have been relocated due to resident concerns.
“The mayor assigned one person from the parish attorney’s office to review the ordinance,” he says. “We’re working on notification requirements and tighter permitting.”
A public discussion on 5G small cell towers will be held at the June 26 Metro Council meeting, with city officials and task force members expecting an ordinance amendment proposal in the coming weeks.
AT&T maintains the company has complied with the law in its cell tower buildout and expects future ordinances to adhere to the law as well.
“We have worked with the mayor, city officials and citizens who are interested in this important investment, including answering questions about the needs of our customers, small cell technology and how quickly we can begin to deploy them,” says AT&T spokesman Joe Chandler. “We look forward to continuing to engage in these discussions as we work to bring the latest technologies to serve our customers in Baton Rouge.”
AT&T did not respond to a question about whether the company could install the equipment on existing structures, rather than erect their own towers.
The only other telecommunications company with plans to install small cell equipment is Cox Communications, though it has not entered the Baton Rouge market yet, and representatives say their equipment is small and is installed onto existing infrastructure.