Avon joins fight against state legislation

Avon

By Nicole Hennessy

The city of Avon is now onboard with a lawsuit in response to the State of Ohio’s adoption of Senate Bill 331 (SB331).

Avon joins about 30 other municipalities opposing the bill, which originally pertained to rules regarding Grove City, Ohio, pet stores. The Ohio Senate passed this version of the bill in May. The House Finance Committee proceeded to add language to the bill regarding things like animal fighting and prohibiting municipalities, counties or other entities to enact minimum wage differing from that of the state.

The bill also now expands the right of communications providers to install “small cell facilities” (wireless
infrastructure) in municipal rights of way, limiting the rights of municipalities to control the location, size and design of the structures.

Avon’s decision to retain the law firm of Walter Haverfield for a flat fee of $4,500 comes one week after Avon Lake City Council voted to do the same.

Avon Mayor Bryan Jensen is hoping there will be power in numbers.

In addition to the group Avon, Avon Lake and nearby cities like Rocky River joined, a group in
central Ohio of about 40 cities, as well as individual cites like Cleveland and Cincinnati, are also involved in similar suits.

“I don’t think people realize what the effect would be,” Jensen said of communications companies taking advantage of this legislation and placing structures in rights of way cities would never approve.

“If it starts popping up in their neighborhood, they certainly would be outraged, but at this point, no one knows what it really means to them, and I think all of us don’t. That’s what makes us a little nervous.”

“We have no control,” Jensen continued. “That was the thing we’ve argued: ‘Why? Why aren’t we a part of that (decision)?”’

In addition to imposing potentially unwanted small cell facilities on cities, Avon Lake law Director Abe Liberman indicated in that city’s action to join the lawsuit that SB331 also violates several provisions within the Ohio Constitution, including municipal home rule authority and the single subject rule.

The single subject rule dictates that a bill can only include one subject. The broad subject matter included in SB331 has been particularly troubling to opponents.

These violations are encouraging to some, who are using them as the basis to argue that there’s no way the bill will stand.

Attempting to remain optimistic, Jensen is also realistic.

“When it comes to court I never feel confident one way or the other,” he said.

While he acknowledges that most companies are willing to work with cities, Jensen said there is always the fear that some won’t if they aren’t legally obligated to.

“If they wanted to fight us they could,” he said, commenting on the new law as it now stands.
“We just don’t think they need to do that.”

Currently, there is a process by which those interested in installing structures, like cellphone towers, must file paperwork and gain city approval for details including size and
placement.

Contact Nicole Hennessy at nicohenness@gmail.com

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