Hilary Abbott, the CVRD’s director for Cowichan Bay, wants the district to have a stronger cell tower policy. (Citizen file photo)

Hilary Abbott, the CVRD’s director for Cowichan Bay, wants the district to have a stronger cell tower policy. (Citizen file photo)

CVRD looks to strengthen cell tower policy

Many directors want minimum distance from homes included

The Cowichan Valley Regional District will consider changes to the cell tower siting policy for electoral areas that it adopted in October to make it more in line with North Cowichan’s policy.

That would mean, if the changes are made to the policy, the CVRD would prefer cell towers be placed at least 500 metres from residences, and would encourage that they be placed in transportation and utility corridors, and commercial sites remote from residential areas.

The district’s committee of the whole decided to make that recommendation to the board at its meeting on Jan. 11 after directors raised concerns about the policy that was adopted by the CVRD.


That policy includes a requirement for cell towers to be located more than 300 metres from schools, avoid areas affecting public views, avoid hazardous and environmentally sensitive areas, and require minimal tree removal.

In October, some directors felt that the new policy was not strong enough in stating where the CVRD would prefer towers be placed so, while the new policy was adopted, staff were directed to do further research on it with an eye to the more stringent restrictions that are in North Cowichan’s policy for possible amendments.

At the meeting on Jan. 11, staff recommended that the policy be deferred for review until the fall of 2025 mainly to see what other options that changes in technology, including fibre optics, might come into play that could impact many aspects of the cell tower policy.

Alison Garnett, the CVRD’s planning coordinator, also pointed out that the main reasons for the differences between North Cowichan’s and the CVRD’s policy are the difference in land-use patterns and servicing between the CVRD’s electoral areas and incorporated areas like North Cowichan.

She said a policy that signals preference for future cell towers to be located away from residential areas might be possible in the CVRD’s municipalities, while still providing service to commercial and residential users, because of the higher-density population found within the municipalities and the existence of cellular and built infrastructure already in place.


Garnett said this same siting flexibility does not exist to the same degree outside of more urban areas of the CVRD, like North Cowichan.

“In the electoral areas, residential areas in some instances are located in rural areas away from commercial and industrial designations, and while a [cell tower] could be sited on the latter, the reach may not extend to the residential areas where service is currently void or scant, thus defeating the purpose,” she said.

The Radiocommunication Act authorizes the federal Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada to give approval for the installation of cell towers and antenna systems, and regional governments do not have authority to override ISEDC’s decisions.

But ISEDC has its own guidelines that service providers must follow as part of its application process to place towers, including consultations with local residents and encouraging municipalities to get involved early in the siting process.

A number of speakers and an official delegation from the Cowichan Bay Residents’ Association spoke at the meeting on Jan. 11 urging the CVRD to tell ISEDC that it doesn’t concur with the proposal by Rogers Communication to place a 63-metre cell tower on a 19-acre plot of private agricultural land in their area.


They cited a number of concerns, including potential impacts on health and property values.

Hilary Abbott, the CVRD’s director for Cowichan Bay, said the board will be asked for concurrence from the ISEDC for the cell tower in his area, and he would rather have a healthy cell tower policy in place that the district can turn to when considering whether it would support it or not.

He said he would like to see some setback limits in the policy restricting how close cell towers can be to homes.

“We can say 500 metres, but that can be deviated from for situations where it’s just not practical to site something at 500 metres,” Abbott said.

Kate Segall, director for Mill Bay/Malahat, said she understands why staff recommended deferring the review of the policy.

“But we are electoral areas and every electoral area looks very different in terms of their population and how it’s oriented, and a lot of our electoral areas are looking more like municipalities so I’d like our policy to reflect that,” she said.

The majority of the committee voted to recommend the board change the policy.


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