North Cowichan has decided not to allow Rogers Communications to place two new and controversial cell towers on municipally owned land.
At its meeting on May 19, council voted to tell Rogers that the municipality is currently in the process of developing a policy to govern the placement of cell towers in its jurisdiction, and North Cowichan is not interested in entering into licences of occupation for the two sites proposed by the communications company in Evans Park and on Mount Tzouhalem, close to the water reservoir near Kaspa Road.
Council had originally planned to make a decision on the two cell towers after Rogers completed its consultations with the public on their proposal and came back to council with the results, which was expected in early June.
But Coun. Rob Douglas said the feeling he was getting from other council members was that they weren’t going to approve the two licences of occupation after receiving lots of correspondence from neighbours of the sites who are against the proposal.
He said it wouldn’t be a good use of staff’s time, and North Cowichan’s limited resources, to continue to process Rogers’ application if council intends to deny it anyway when the public consultations are over.
“We may want to pull the plug on this now and tell Rogers that we’re working on a new policy [for cell towers] and we’ll get back to them when that process has been completed,” Douglas said.
But Coun. Kate Marsh said council’s role is to keep an open mind on all applications to North Cowichan.
“If we were going to say ‘no’, we should have done it when this application first came to us,” she said.
“I think we need to let Rogers have their say. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to say ‘yes’, but if we deny them now, we could open ourselves up to some kinds of challenges, or we may get a bad reputation. It seems to me that Rogers will be coming back to us in a few weeks and we should let them come and see what they report on the public consultations. I’m interested to hear what they report and compare it to what we’re hearing from people in those two areas.”
CAO Ted Swabey said that on one hand, in terms of due process, council has to weigh in in terms of treating all applicants fairly.
“On the other hand, it’s your land and you can do what you want with it,” he said.
“I agree with the councillors who want to save staff time and time at a council meeting [by denying the application now], and it would make a lot of sense. If council collectively thinks it doesn’t want cell towers on those two properties, now is the time to say that.”
Mayor Al Siebring said he would like to hear from Rogers and see what they have to say before making any final decisions.
“Part of the reality with this file is that cell phones are becoming ubiquitous and we need the infrastructure to support them,” he said.
“If not in these locations, then where should they go? We also need to know the implications of us not doing this.”
But Siebring said at least Rogers will still have a glimmer of hope that they can still place cell towers in North Cowichan once the new policy is implemented.
“They can come back, look at the parameters [of the new policy], and reapply for some different sites,” he said.