Village officials have been looking at enlarging the school zone on Indian Road near the elementary school for more than a year. Recently approved plans call for moving the 20 mile per hour speed limit signs with the flashing LED lights about 300 feet away from school property.
The moves are allowed under the Ohio Revised Code and have been approved by the Ohio Department of Transportation. The one for westbound traffic will be relocated near Manchester Boulevard.
The sign for eastbound traffic will be moved closer to where Bexford Place intersects Indian. It will, however, be mounted on a new pole which will be more than double the height of the existing pole. The new 30 foot tall pole will be the result of collaboration between the Village and Lightower, a telecommunications company.
"[Lightower] wants to put a small cell tower on Indian Road," Village Administrator Marc Thompson said. "We are going to do it in a manner that allows us to put our school zone sign on the same pole."
According to the telecommunications company, a study shows that stretch of Indian Road is an idea location for a small cell tower, Thompson said.
"There has been a huge increase in data transmission, and it requires additional equipment to work," Thompson said. "An area on Indian Road near the (elementary) school has been identified as a place for more infrastructure."
In years past, the Village would have been able to reject, or at least control, the location of new cell towers and antennas. That changed near the end of 2016.
"Periodically the state of Ohio passes laws that have an impact, usually adverse, to home rule," Thompson said.
SB331 is one of those laws. Adopted earlier this year, it gives cell phone companies and their providers the ability to place small cell towers - typically 30 to 35 feet tall - virtually anywhere they want to in the public right of way.
"We have very little ability to control it," Thompson said. "It even goes beyond that. If the company wants to attach [an antenna] to an existing street light or traffic light pole, they can do that too."
"I understand the need to support the huge amount of data being transmitted, but it is distressing the state has taken away our ability to control our rights of way," Thompson said. "Before this, we used to be able to say 'No, you can't put it there, but you can put it here.'"
Under SB331, telecommunications companies need to submit an application to the municipality indicating their desire to install a small cell tower, and where. The municipality has 60 days to respond. If it does nothing, the company can proceed with the installation.
"The new law says we can have them put it within 50 feet of where they want to put it," he said. "That is about it."
Thompson said the Village has been fortunate Lightower has been willing to work with Ottawa Hills as to the placement and appearance of the tower. He said the Village is trying to control the number of signs and poles along Indian, as well as their appearance.
The small cell towers have popped up in communities across the country, many times to the dismay of unknowing residents. In most of those cases they are on typical wooden utility poles, which are installed for the sole purpose of holding the new cell tower's equipment.
In 2015 residents in Louisville, Ky. complained about more than 40 new poles, describing them as eyesores. By collaborating with Lightower, the Village hopes to at least avoid the unsightly nature of the new pole.
"It will look like a street light pole," Thompson said. "Our tallest ones are 15 feet tall, this one will be 30 feet. They will work with us, to put in an ornamental pole."
As a point of reference, the Village street lights along Indian are around 12 feet tall, and the utility poles on the north side of the street, are about 48 feet tall.
Another telecommunications company has indicated its desire to install a small cell tower at the intersection of Talmadge Road and West Bancroft Street.