The first test of a new Langley Township cell tower policy that requires a poll of people near a proposed project did not go well for the phone companies, with the rejection of the first two towers presented under the new rules.
Telus wanted to fill in coverage gaps and reduce dropped calls by building two new towers, one 45 metres tall at 4997 256 St. and the other 50 metres tall at 20470 88 Ave.
They were the first cell towers to be considered since the Township adopted a new process in September, 2013, following several drawn-out public hearings on cell tower placement in Langley.
It is believed the Township is the first Metro Vancouver community to order referenda on cell towers.
The new municipal “telecommunication tower policy” requires an 80 per cent “yes” vote from people living near any proposed new cell phone antenna installation.
Under the new rules, cellphone companies have to poll residents within a 500 metre radius of a proposed tower.
Ballots are mailed out, and any that don’t get returned are considered to be “no” votes.
Telus didn’t even come close to the 80 per cent “yes” target on either tower proposal.
The 256 Street project netted less than 10 per cent mail-in support, while the 88 Avenue project was below seven per cent.
When the two projects came back to council in December, a majority voted to inform Industry Canada, the federal agency that has final say over cell towers, that neither was supported.
Because Industry Canada could still decide to allow construction, Councillor Bob Long convinced the rest of council to add a request for a more esthetic tree-like tower design if they do go ahead.
Two more cell tower projects are being processed under the new policy.
Telus tried to talk council out of the new approach before it was approved, arguing the 80 per cent requirement would be all but impossible to achieve.
Government affairs manager Chad Marlatt said Telus knows most people don’t want a cell tower near their homes.
Usually, he said, only 10 per cent of nearby residents will support a new cell tower.
While the Township doesn’t actually have legal authority to prevent construction of cell towers, Marlatt said Industry Canada, the federal authority that does have the power, will likely defer to the Township.
Marlatt said Langley needs to upgrade its cell networks to keep up with “overwhelming” demand from a rapidly growing community, and that means upgrading existing towers and adding new ones.
He said Langley currently has the second highest number of complaints about cell service in B.C., but was unable to provide specific numbers.