Love ’em or hate ’em: Small cell towers divide Dayton neighbors

Credit: Cornelius Frolik

Dayton residents are divided about small cell towers

Credit: Cornelius Frolik

Small cellular towers are going up in neighborhoods across Dayton, and residents are split about whether to cheer or condemn their arrival.

More than 100 towers have been proposed inside of city limits as wireless companies build out new 5G networks.

Some people say they are glad that faster internet and download speeds could soon become available in their neighborhoods.

But other residents say small cell towers look ugly and could hurt property values and streetscape and neighborhood aesthetics.

“I don’t think people want to buy a house to look at this huge, metal monstrosity in front of the home,” said Devon Thompson, who lives near a cell tower that is being installed.

ExploreDayton leaders criticize wireless companies for 5G buildout, small cell sites
Verizon has installed this pole for a new small cell tower on the 1400 block of Highland Avenue in the Walnut Hills neighborhood. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
Verizon has installed this pole for a new small cell tower on the 1400 block of Highland Avenue in the Walnut Hills neighborhood. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

In mid-March, Verizon installed a pole for a new small cell tower near the intersection of Highland Avenue and Clarence Street in the Walnut Hills neighborhood.

The tower is being installed in the tree lawn area in front of a home on the 1400 block of Highland Avenue, by an alley that runs alongside two homes.

Thompson, 38, has lived in the home on the north side of the alley for 13 years.

Thompson said the tower looks horrible, ruins the view from his porch and front yard and he’s scared it will harm his home value.

“I don’t want to stare at this thing,” he said. “And I don’t want to go sell my house in the future and have to stare at this thing.”

Thompson said he reached out to the city to share his concerns and try to find out why a tower is allowed in that location in a residential area.

He said city staff told him that Verizon can install small cell towers in any alley in the city.

Thompson said he doesn’t understand why the tower can’t be placed along Wayne Avenue, just a few blocks south, where one side of the road doesn’t have any houses.

“There are other areas they could put it, right down the street, that probably would get the exact same reception … and not be in the residential area,” he said.

Thompson said he wishes property owners near proposed cell tower sites got a chance to provide feedback and object to the projects.

Thompson said he recently planted a tree in his front yard because he hopes that it will block the view of the tower eventually, but that probably won’t happen for decades.

But Thompson’s next door neighbor, Mary Owens, said she has no problem with the tower and plans to switch wireless providers to Verizon because she wants better service and thinks the tower should help provide it.

Owens said her phone service is very spotty, her signal cuts out frequently and oftentimes she only gets some her calls and messages, unless she’s on her front porch.

She said her provider had to send her a signal booster, which still hasn’t solved her service problems.

Mary Owens, who lives on Highland Avenue, says she has no problem with a new small cell tower that was installed near her home. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
Mary Owens, who lives on Highland Avenue, says she has no problem with a new small cell tower that was installed near her home. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Owens said the tower isn’t attractive but it does not look completely out of place, since there are utility poles lining the other side of the street.

“The way I feel ― if you don’t like progress, move to the country,” she said. “How many telephone poles do you see? We have tons of them, and street light poles, electric poles.”

Owens, who has lived on Highland Avenue for 12 years, said most neighbors she’s talked to don’t seem to care about the tower and aren’t bothered by it.

This tower location, and the others within the neighborhood, were selected because they give Verizon the ability to achieve the signal strength they desire for the services they provide, said David Escobar, city of Dayton senior engineer II.

Small cell towers like this enhance or strengthen the signal from carriers’ larger macro towers, he said.

“The amount of equipment necessary is dependent on the carrier and the signal they desire to achieve,” he said. “Additionally, there are sites or are proposed sites on Wayne Ave.”

Escobar said city staff meet with carriers when they submit requests for cell towers in the right of way. He said staff discuss and review the proposed sites.

Small cell tower sites in Dayton as of the end of 2020. CONTRIBUTED
Small cell tower sites in Dayton as of the end of 2020. CONTRIBUTED

Carriers must provide justification if the projects require a new pole, but he said the city by law can only require a pole to be moved within 100 feet of the proposed site.

“Citizens do not get the chance to comment as this work is performed in the right of way as a utility,” he said. “The city must work within the rules set for in the Ohio Revised Code Chapter 4939: Use of Municipal Public Way in order to deny a site.”

Escobar said the city has not denied a small cell tower request, but it has reached agreements with carriers to move some to alternate locations.

In this case, Verizon was not able to put its equipment on one of the existing poles because the pole owners did not allow it, Escobar said.

Escobar said small cell towers lay the groundwork for the technology of the future.

“With its fiber backbone the 5G infrastructure being installed will reduce latency, meaning data and information will be able to be shared and received in real time,” he said.

For consumers, this means movies and other media can be downloaded in seconds.

Escobar said it also means critical information from first-responders can be shared instantly with ER doctors and medical staff during emergencies.