Overland Park officials concerned with lack of city input on installation of ‘small cell towers’ in residential areas

There are three monopoles within Overland Park at the following locations: 9735 Nieman Road, 10611 Nall Avenue and 10501 Roe Avenue. Pictured is the one at 9735 Nieman Road, near Oak Park Mall and Target.

The spread of 5G wireless technology promises broader internet access, increased connection speeds and wider bandwidth. It also means homeowners could start finding a big new pole to house 5G technology installed outside their front doors — a prospect that has some local governments working to retain their rights to regulate what can be put in a right-of-way.

The city of Overland Park is among the local cities that have seen installation of some of the “small cell towers” — also known as monopoles — that make 5G networks function.

Under federal and state laws, cell phone companies can erect small cell towers in rights-of-way, the area in a private property 11-feet from the back of a curb where the city and utility companies can install infrastructure, Reilly said. A new bill, SB 380, would allow video service companies to erect monopoles across Kansas cities in addition to cell service providers. State laws give cities like Overland Park very little say in if and where monopoles are placed, Reilly said.

“We can’t stop them from putting up a monopole,” Reilly said. “What we do request if they put up a monopole… we ask that they put it on the property line rather than put it right in front of the house. We can’t require that, we can only request that — same thing with [putting the technology on an existing] streetlight.”

Small cell towers

The city has been working with Verizon, Sprint and AT&T since 2012 to put antennas on city street light poles, Manager of Current Planning Leslie Karr said. When the state passed legislation further restricting cities’ ability to control applications for monopoles in the right-of-way in 2016, it allowed cell service providers the opportunity to build a monopole without going through the special use permit process, Karr said.

Currently, under state and federal laws, cell service providers can build a monopole in residential areas up to 30-feet tall — more than twice as tall as residential streetlights — and up to 50-feet on major thoroughfares. Ward 2 Councilmember Paul Lyons said he’s received inquiries from residents who are concerned about the monopoles in close proximity to homes and electro-magnetic emissions.

Lyons said his concern is that over the next couple of years, there will be a proliferation of antennas throughout the city, and that the installation of monopoles will cause problems for the city. As the move to 5G continues, Lyons said it will be interesting to see how it’s going to impact Overland Park neighborhoods.

“I’m concerned, you know, about somebody just coming into a residential area and all of a sudden putting up a pole in front of somebody’s house and [the homeowner is] not going to like it,” Lyons said. “We have no control over it.”

SB 380

The city submitted a testimony to the Senate Committee on Utilities, a committee that Sen. John Skubal, who represents an Overland Park district in the statehouse, sits on and that is sponsoring SB 380, to explain why the city opposes the bill. The following are the three main reasons why the city opposes SB 380, as laid out in the letter of opposition:

  • It “detrimentally impacts the cities’ ability to regulate and protect their rights-of-way”
  • It includes an “unintended consequence of eliminating wireless service fees,” which is something that was fought for with SB 68
  • It gives cable operators an unfair advantage over other utility providers

Skubal said with his background as an Overland Park city councilmember for 10 years, he wants to make sure both cities and their right-of-ways are protected. He voted no on SB 380 because there’s no responsible party if an issue arises, and it doesn’t affect those in cities where utilities are still in good shape.

“I want them to understand that they [need to] get permits to work in the right-of-way,” Skubal said. “Some don’t think that [the companies] should have to do that, and that was my issue with the bill.”

Mike Taylor, public relations officer for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., gave testimony in front of the Senate Utilities Committee in opposition of the bill. In his testimony, Taylor said “the proposed legislation would override a city’s ability to act in the best interests of citizens by allowing cable companies to install wireless technology without any city input or oversight.”

Additionally, Taylor said this could jeopardize public safety: without city input, sight lines might be ignored that could create driving hazards. The bill passed through the state Senate on Feb. 27, and was introduced to the Kansas House of Representatives on March 4. A hearing for the bill is scheduled for Thursday, March 12 at 9 a.m.