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Don't limit local zoning authority on cell towers, AOPA saysDon't limit local zoning authority on cell towers, AOPA says

AOPA is urging the Federal Communications Commission to deny a petition that would limit local communities’ zoning authority when it comes to sites for cell towers and antennas.

The petition, presented by CTIA, the trade association for the cell phone industry, asks that the FCC create a “shot clock” of 45 or 75 days for action on wireless antenna or tower zoning applications. Under the plan, applications would automatically be granted if local governments miss that deadline. In addition, the proposal would preempt any local ordinance that would effectively require a variance for every tower, and prevent local communities from considering the presence of service from other cell carriers in determining whether or not to allow new towers or antennas.

But in comments filed with the FCC on Sept. 29, AOPA strongly encouraged the agency to deny the petition, warning that a stopwatch can’t be placed on safety, and tight time restrictions are not in the best interests of the aviation community or the general public.

In addition, AOPA notes that Congress has made it clear that the time frame for each application must depend on the nature of the request, and what constitutes a “reasonable” time for one situation would be inadequate for another.

AOPA’s comments also point out that many airports fall under two jurisdictions, with city and county officials sharing responsibility for the airport and surrounding property. In such cases, both the city and the county must approve and issue permits for tower or antenna construction, requiring close coordination and more time.

“When it comes to zoning around airports, you can’t exclude local authorities,” said Heidi Williams, AOPA senior director of airports. “They have detailed knowledge of their communities and airports, and they need adequate time to make decisions that can have profound consequences for safety.”

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