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East Lansing forms committee to guide cell tower installations

Image of a cell tower
Crown Castle plans to install over 50 small cell 5G towers in East Lansing.

The City of East Lansing is forming a committee to guide the installation of cell towers across the region. At its Tuesday meeting, City Council established the cell tower committee and also took steps to make it easier for restaurants to provide outdoor dining.

For months, residents have been criticizing plans to install more than 50 small cell towers in East Lansing to enhance 5G connectivity. Many were frustrated to learn from a Lansing State Journal advertisement that towers would be installed in front of their homes.

Verizon hired telecommunications company Crown Castle to construct the sites. Representatives with the company came to last week's city council meeting to apologize for how they communicated about the project.

A map from Crown Castle indicates where the company plans to install cell towers in East Lansing.
A map from Crown Castle indicates where the company plans to install cell towers in East Lansing.

Concerns include the aesthetic impact towers would have on city neighborhoods. Many residents believe they should have a say in where the towers are installed, particularly those that would be placed in front of single-family homes.

Other residents said they want to see research explaining if it's safe to live in close proximity to small cell facilities.

East Lansing City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to establish a committee that could create guidelines for the cell towers. The committee will include Brian Loomis, a member of the group CELL (Citizens Engaged for Livable Locations), and members of the Planning and Historic District Commissions.

The group is also streamlining the approval process for expanded outdoor dining for the fourth year in a row.

The council approved a temporary resolution at Tuesday’s meeting to expedite the approach for restaurants to provide outdoor seating in public spaces. The resolution eliminates fees for expanded restaurant patios on public space and allows the city’s planning department to directly grant approval for expanded seating.

Officials authorized similar measures the past three summers to support businesses during the pandemic. Restaurants used the initiative as part of the Albert EL Fresco space, an area designed to be pedestrian-friendly to attract visitors to downtown.

outdoor seating area in East Lansing
City of East Lansing
The "Albert El Fresco" project is closing in East Lansing for the rest of the year. It may reopen in the spring.

Some council members opposed the resolution. George Brookover was critical of language in the resolution that said the measure would help businesses hurt by the pandemic.

Community and Economic Development Specialist Matt Apostle acknowledged that individuals are likely less concerned about health as time has passed from the onset of COVID-19.

"However, at the same time, we've had somewhat of a resurgence in recent years of being involved in the public space and outdoor spaces, with Albert EL Fresco as well as other placemaking projects, which has made the outdoor dining a popular option for implementing for restaurants," Apostle said.

Noel Garcia Jr. said he’s worried about maintaining public safety with crowds gathering outside.

“Now we've got outdoor seating, tables, chairs," he said. "If things go wrong, bad, I just hate to be the 'what-if guy,' but I did that for 25 years, and I'm sitting here because of that.”

Officials said they plan to discuss ways to maintain safety downtown with the larger crowds outside.

Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg said the city shouldn’t end an initiative that’s seen praise from community members.

“I see these areas being enjoyed by families that have walked in from the neighborhoods," Gregg said. "It really gives people who have, especially like with children, who might not want to go into a bar atmosphere restaurant, but are excited to come down with their children when they can eat outside on the patio”

Restaurants hoping to set up outdoor patios will still need to go through all regulatory steps to get permission for the structures.

The vote for the resolution was 3-2. The streamlined approval process begins this week and ends in November.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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