On cell towers (1): Read the federal law, change to local one

The following was published as a Letter to the Editor by the Westmount Independent on 2018-10-23, with the above title:

With reference to the article by Martin Barry, “Westmount has no say on cell tower installation, says city official” (2018-10-9, p3) I would like to take issue with the interpretation and conclusions offered by Benoit Hurtubise, Westmount’s director general. Hurtubise is reported as saying that municipalities have “practically no say in the matter” of cell antennae, that it’s the federal government that regulates cell towers on private property.

The relevant federal “rules” are contained in the “Client Procedure Circular” CPC-2-0-03 — Radiocommunication and Broadcasting Antenna Systems, posted here: https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/smt-gst.nsf/eng/sf08777.html.

Section 4 states, “Proponents must always contact the applicable land-use authorities to determine the local consultation requirements and to discuss local preferences regarding antenna system siting and/or design, unless their proposal falls within the exclusion criteria outlined in Section 6.”

I suspect that M. Hurtubise believes that in the case of the installation at 239 Kensington, and probably also the antennas installed on the building at Lansdowne and Sherbrooke (see photo) fall within the exclusion criteria in Section 6. The only part of Section 6 which is possibly applicable reads “Non-Tower Structures: antennas on buildings, water towers, lamp posts, etc. may be excluded from consultation provided that the height above ground of the non-tower structure, exclusive of appurtenances, is not increased by more than 25%”.

Not only is this a conditional exclusion (note the word “may” in “may be excluded”) but it also hinges on whether we are talking about non-tower structures or tower structures.

So, are these cell antenna systems non-tower systems, and therefore excluded? Footnote 1 says “For the purposes of this document, an “antenna system” is normally composed of an antenna and some sort of supporting structure, normally a tower.” We have all seen cell antennas attached to the sides of buildings; those are clearly “non-tower systems”. The two installations here involve a structure which raises the antenna itself above the height of the building. That structure can be called a tower, or possibly a mast, if it has guy wires or stays. But definitely not “non-tower”!

Not only that, this particular exclusion criterion has a footnote, “Telecommunication carriers, operators of broadcasting undertakings and third party tower owners may benefit from local knowledge by contacting the land-use authority when planning an antenna system that meets this exclusion criteria.”

So, M. Hurtubise, did the people who installed these antenna towers contact the city? Do you believe that they should? Does the non-tower exclusion apply? And if it does not apply, should the city not enforce its own by-law 1303, https://westmount.org/app-reglements/pdf/1303c.pdf? Oh, wait, this says (6.8.9.1) “this By-law does not apply to an antenna issued with a required federal license pursuant to the applicable federal legislation.”

If I read this correctly, then our own elected officials, who created this by-law, have also created the exemption! Well, let’s change the by-law, then! Once we do, we can then enforce the other sections of by-law 1303, which limit the number of antennas to one per building or site (6.8.5), limit the height to 10 feet above the highest point of the building roof (6.8.7.1), and require that it be located as far to the rear of the building as possible (6.8.7.2).

What are we waiting for? The quality of our environment is at stake!

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