The Taneytown Mayor and City Council on Wednesday discussed an ordinance that would place limits on the implementation of small cell wireless apparatuses erected on public grounds in the city.
Though no wireless provider has put up such a facility within city limits, it’s important the lawmakers enact this ordinance “primarily for the purposes of individual citizens,” Councilman Joe Vigliotti told the Times. “For the rights of their property. It really is a question of stability …
“On the one hand you’re protecting property rights, but on the other hand you’re making sure that anything that does go in does not interfere in such a way that does create problems for people.”
The Federal Communications Commission in 2018 adopted rules for “small cell deployments” — the vehicle for 5G wireless networks — that capped fees state and local governments could levy against providers wishing to erect the devices and provided that municipalities couldn’t reject companies’ wishes — but could regulate how the “deployments” look.
Internet providers use the devices to speed up wireless services — like internet — across the country. The evolution of 5G wireless, according to an FCC report, will enable a “new wave of entrepreneurship, innovation, and economic opportunity for communities across the country.”
Ordinance 03-2019 would establish a framework for aesthetic criteria that a small-cell provider would have to meet in order to erect such infrastructure, as well as certain procedures the company would need to follow.
City Attorney Jay Gullo briefed elected officials about the ordinance at their monthly workshop meeting Wednesday, March 6. The council will vote on its introduction at the monthly Mayor and Council Meeting on Monday.
Other types of wireless infrastructure, such as cellular towers on private property or antennae attached to city water towers, are covered in the Taneytown’s zoning code, Gullo said — small cell wireless is different.
“Small cell deployments are going to be made up of basically two components: an antenna and the box — the stuff that goes with it,” Gullo told the elected body. “The antenna goes on top of the pole, the box goes somewhere else.”
Wireless companies are aiming to erect these apparatuses on public right of way areas because it’s cheaper than negotiating with a private property owner, according to Gullo. Taneytown’s code covers such a facility on a private property, he added.
The FCC capped the fee a municipality could charge a wireless company for erecting a small-cell deployment in the public right of way at $270 per small wireless facility and $500 for non-recurring application fees.
The proposed ordinance takes aim at the aesthetics and consolidation, where possible. It mandates that unless a provider can prove it is technologically unpractical, they should co-locate on a pole with other providers. The ordinance encourages the use of underground technology.
Ordinance 03-2019 says that support structures for such facilities must “maximize the use of building materials, colors and textures designed to blend with the structure to which it may be affixed and to harmonize with the natural surroundings. This shall include the utilization of stealth or camouflage or concealment technique.”
In order for a provider to erect a small-cell tower up in Taneytown it must secure a Right of Way Agreement from the city, Gullo said — regardless of whether the right of way is property of the city, county or state.
The FCC also established a “shot clock,” allowing the municipality a limited timeframe to review an application and decide whether it meets the municipality’s criteria or if it must be adjusted.
If the municipality balks and doesn’t come to a conclusion within the timeframe, the facility is considered to be approved under the FCC rules, Gullo said. Some of the applications will be reviewed by the city administration, while others will go before the city’s Planning Commission.
Adding an antenna on an existing pole might be something that could be approved by the administration, Gullo told the Times. “If they’re going to construct a pole, that might go before the planning commission.”
Taneytown’s proposed ordinance would force wireless companies to consider proximity to trees, driveways and residential structures. The ordinance says there must be a 40-foot setback from residences.
Because of the setback, Gullo told the elected officials, they established that a small cell tower could be no taller than 30 feet, considering the space it would cover in the case of a collapse.
In addition, the ordinance would mandate the company to put up a bond in case they destroy the right of way while erecting the small cell facility the city can pay for repairs at no cost to taxpayers. It also requires the wireless provider to give residents notice if they plan to put an apparatus in front of their residence and gives the city the right to cut down a pole in the case of a public emergency.
Two competing pieces of legislation — one that limit a local government’s authority to regulate small cell installations and another that seeks to establish in state law that municipalities can regulate certain aspects of the installation and appearance of the wireless facilities — are advancing in the Maryland General Assembly.
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Municipalities, Gullo said, must adopt ordinances that establish aesthetic standards by April 15 or the aesthetic standards outlined by the federal government is required.