AURORA -- The city has joined a lawsuit filed by the city of Hudson on March 17 against the state, trying to take back control over rights-of-way along city streets.

Aurora Law Director Dean DePiero said the suit seeks a preliminary injunction against Ohio House Bill 331 from taking effect.

The bill allows wireless service providers to attach equipment such as boxes and antennas to any public poles, such as traffic lights or street lights within the public right-of-way without the consent or regulation of local cities and villages, according to Hudson Solicitor Todd Hunt.

The law allows poles to be up to 50 feet in height.

"It's the city's position that they're not permitted, and, if they were, they'd have to go through the planning commission to be permitted properly," said DePiero.

Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamim said the complaint seeks to protect cities' ability to control their own appearance.

"We want to protect the integrity, appearance and character of our community, whether it's in the historic district or near the schools or in another residential area," she said.

Aurora City Council voted 5-0 on March 27 on a motion to join the lawsuit, which includes at least 20 co-plaintiffs, all of which are municipalities in Northeast Ohio.

At the same meeting, Council also a 120-day moratorium against antennas, cellular devices and other structures permitted to be installed under HB 331.

State Sen. Frank LaRose, who voted for the bill, said he felt justified in favoring it when the Ohio Municipal League took a neutral position on the law.

"There seems to be many misconceptions about this important new development to improve wireless service for all Ohioans," he said. "Once I knew that the organizations representing Ohio's cities did not object to this change, I was comfortable with this component of the larger bill.

"Exceptions in the legislation also ensure that technological advancement and historical preservation can co-exist."

In addition to being potentially unattractive, DePiero said the antennas and other devices represent a financial burden to the city in the event of road work.

"If we wanted to widen the road, we'd have to pay to move the antenna and facilities," he said. "I think they've also limited the amount of fees we can apply. Our fees are there to limit our administrative costs."

During the moratorium, DePiero said he will try to figure out how best to regulate the antennas and other structures, which he said are a new technology sought by cell phone carriers.

"I've been looking at ordinances from other cities," he said. "I'm in the process of drafting something, but a lot of the ordinances did not contemplate this new law."

Womer Benjamin said the city's regulatory solution will depend to a large extent on the outcome of the lawsuit against the state.

DePiero and Womer Benjamin said the state law also erodes the city's constitutional right to home rule.

"I think home rule is at the crux of this," said Womer Benjamin. "The state is saying these contraptions can go anywhere in the city, and the citv has no authority to say where they go."

The law is the latest in a series of bills and events over the past 15 to 20 years that have eroded home rule, added DePiero. Another such law is the one placing all authority for siting of gas and oil wells with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

"At least in that case, there is a regulating body," said DePiero. "At least with [oil and gas], they gave some powers to the state. With this, they didn't even set up a commission."


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