In response to recent community concerns over proposals for cellphone towers beside schools and homes, the Huntington Beach City Council Monday night narrowly passed changes to the approval process that will include public hearings.

The most significant change is that the city will now require a conditional use permit for stand-alone cellphone towers and cell antennas attached to utility infrastructure. The new process requires a public hearing and shifts the city’s emphasis toward evaluating whether the antenna would be compatible with the surrounding area, according to a staff report.

The new rules were passed by a 4-3 vote, with Councilwoman Connie Boardman and Councilmen Joe Shaw and Matthew Harper opposing.

Previously, permits for these types of cell antennas could be approved without a public hearing, though in several recent cases the approvals were brought before the public regardless.

The changes were born out of an emergency meeting in April 2009 over a proposed antenna next to an elementary school at Harbor View Park that sparked uproar among parents regarding possible health hazards of cell towers.

Verizon Wireless representative Leslie Daigle, who is also a Newport Beach City Council member, said that requiring a conditional use permit is “overly cumbersome” and that she knew of no other city that required them. However, Ricky Ramos, senior planner for the city, said the requirement is not unique.

The revamped rules don’t apply to proposed “stealth” antennas that would be mounted to existing buildings. Ramos also explained that federal law prevents the city from considering health effects when approving antennas.

Four residents spoke at Monday’s meeting, all seeking more stringent requirements than the council was considering, but a majority of council members opted to adopt the city staff’s recommendation.

— NICK GERDA

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