This action was permitted after a last minute change to Senate Bill 213 (SB 213) allowing for such action by municipalities, provided they did so by May 1, 2017. Carmel held a specially called BPW meeting Friday morning to pass the resolution that established an Underground and Buried Utility District throughout the City’s right of way (ROW) and granted utility easements in order to help preserve property values for property owners in Carmel. This resolution was passed making the new District effective Sunday, April 30, 2017.
“This resolution retains the City of Carmel’s right to review and approve requests for exemption by utilities of all kinds who are seeking to erect new or replace existing poles, towers and other above ground structures that supply communications, electric and other services,” said Mayor Jim Brainard. “It does not mean the City won’t allow any more new cell towers. But it does give our residents and our city planners an opportunity to have input into those decisions which will have an impact on our community.”
Under its provisions, the City resolution states that no pole, overhead line or associated overhead structures used for supplying electric, communication or similar associated services can be constructed without the authorization of Carmel’s BPW. This also applies to the replacement or relocation of current structures. SB213, which passed out of the General Assembly on April 21, would effectively remove that protection and would permit any cell towers to be built in public right of way every 50 feet without prior review or need for approval by cities, counties or towns.
Mayor Brainard sought the new City of Carmel resolution after a review of the new legislation by the City’s legal team, including City Attorney Ashley Ulbricht and attorney John Molitor, who works with Carmel Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals. They discovered a last-minute provision had been inserted into the state law that allowed municipalities to “grandfather” areas where the new legislation would not take effect, as long as they did this before May 1, 2017. They then shared their findings with Accelerate Indiana Municipalities (formerly the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns), which agreed that Carmel’s resolution would be a good strategy for other municipalities to follow. Across the state, other cities and towns have begun drafting similar measures, using Carmel’s resolution as a template, in order to preserve their property values and enhanced control over what is placed in public right of way and granted easements.
“Without this action, a telecommunications company would have been allowed by the state legislature to place up to a 50-foot pole in front of anyone’s home without input or recourse by the homeowners. The local taxpayer’s right to control their streets through their locally elected officials would have been taken away. This would have impacted housing values and made it harder to lure businesses with good jobs to our city,” said Mayor Brainard. “Many homeowners have paid extra to build their homes in neighborhoods with underground utilities. Had the City not acted prior to May 1, that investment would have been devalued permanently.”