Columbus Officials Juggle Hundreds of 5G Applications with Tied Hands

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As the wave of 5G infrastructure development begins across the United States, Columbus, OH finds itself in a balancing act between reviewing hundreds of permit applications while aiming to preserve the aesthetics and integrity of its historical districts.    

The state’s law regarding small cell facilities in the right-of-way only allows Ohio municipalities the ability to regulate the placement and appearance of small cell technology. According to the Columbus Dispatch, “The State Historic Preservation Office can comment on the potential impact of the new 5G poles going up in historic areas of Columbus and other areas of Ohio, but can’t prevent them from going up.”

The Columbus Dispatch reported in December that residents of the Olde Towne East neighborhood, a historic district created in 1889, were stunned to learn that a 40-foot 5G tower will be installed in the neighborhood. Residents had no prior knowledge of the tower proposal and the State Historic Preservation Office confirmed it does not have an application for that tower. 

“If we feel like there is going to be an adverse effect, [we can ask] is there a way to design [it] so it’s less intrusive,” said Joy Williams, project reviews manager in the State Historic Preservation Office. That means putting the equipment “on an existing pole” rather than a new one, she added. 

Preserving the character of its historic neighborhoods is important to Columbus and regulations allow the city to require metal poles rather than wood poles. “Metal poles are seen as more decorative,” said Debbie Brinner, spokeswoman for the Columbus Department of Public Service.

Columbus has received 666 excavation permit applications for cell tower poles to be placed in city rights-of-way. “The city also has received 175 permit applications to mount 5G equipment on existing poles. Most of the applications are from Verizon, with others from AT&T and American Cell,” said Brinner. “Because of state law, we don’t have a lot of leeway.” So far, 458 permits have been issued and the city’s planning division is currently reviewing 87 more.

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