Planning Commission to Review Regulations for 5G Technology

The Canby Planning Commission will next week hold a public hearing to consider proposed code amendments intended to place reasonable restrictions on the coming fifth wave of cellphone technology, commonly known as 5G.

The benefits of 5G are fairly obvious: It supports up to 1,000 times more traffic and devices, with speeds 10, 50 or even 100 times faster than 4G. A 5G device could download an entire HD movie — or, I don’t know, the last 200 episodes of Now Hear This: Canby — in less than a second.

The downside — other than the usual challenges associated with an unknown, but almost certainly soon-to-be-ubiquitous technology — is that new infrastructure will have to be put in to facilitate it.

Regulating and, if necessary, restricting that hardware will fall to the city of Canby — assuming it acts in time.

“Our concern is, without design and application standards, the telecommunications companies could feasibly come to the city of Canby, get an electrical or structural permit from Clackamas County and have almost no land use review from Canby,” Senior Planner Ryan Potter told the planning commission last month. “So we want to get in front of this, with some reasonable standards in place.”

Unlike 4G, which is facilitated by large cell towers spaced miles apart, the fifth generation relies on “small cells,” small, clustered networks of wireless transmitters and receivers designed to provide coverage to smaller areas.

These cells are visually unobtrusive, resembling an electrical transformer or similar component, and small enough to simply be slapped on an existing utility pole or a building (one Canby staff member joked in a previous meeting that perhaps they could be made to look like gargoyle statues and added to the Dahlia).

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But there will be a lot of them, the vast majority of which will be deployed in the public right-of-way, at least initially, according to Potter.

Interim City Administrator Joe Lindsay “has hinted that there are companies that are ready and waiting in the wings to deploy some equipment in the city of Canby,” Potter said. “We’re not sure to what extent, but I think, time is of the essence.

“We need to get something in place that is reasonable and is vetted through the planning commission and ultimately approved by the city council.”

There are concerns about the health and environmental impacts of 5G, but federal law prohibits local jurisdictions from making decisions based on these factors.

As long as the facility meets the FCC’s standards for radiofrequency emissions, local jurisdictions are preempted from challenging projects on this basis.

The situation is frustrating for both planning commissioners and staff, as both admitted in a recent work session, but it is the law.

“I don’t think Canby is ready to take on the telecommunications industry’s land use attorneys,” Potter quipped at one point. “That could be very expensive and would probably have a low chance of success.”

The city can, however, create standards for design and placement.

“We don’t have much say on whether it’s going to occur or not; it’s going to occur,” explained Planning Commission Chair John Savory. “We get to tapdance around the edges, you know, colors, above ground, underground — those sorts of things.”

The proposed amendments to the city code make several changes (you can see the full document on the city’s website here), including creating a separate chapter for telecommunications facilities.

The new code would require equipment to be built underground wherever feasible. Where undergrounding is not feasible, developers would be required to blend or shroud the equipment in such as a way as to have the least visual impact as possible.

Cities may not require all equipment to be buried, as some components of wireless do not function underground.

The hearing is one of three that will be held at the Canby Planning Commission scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9. To comment or otherwise participate in the hearing, contact Laney Fouse at or 503-266-0685 before noon that day.

The meeting will be broadcast live on CTV Channel 5 as well as the City of Canby’s YouTube channel.

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Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

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