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Bel Air commissioners considering 'small cell' wireless legislation

Bel Air is developing legislation pertaining to its ability to regulate the placement of “small cell” wireless technology in public rights of way, as wireless providers prepare to install such infrastructure that would support 5G communication services.
Bel Air is developing legislation pertaining to its ability to regulate the placement of “small cell” wireless technology in public rights of way, as wireless providers prepare to install such infrastructure that would support 5G communication services. (Pau Barrena / AFP/Getty Images file)

The town of Bel Air is developing legislation pertaining to its ability to regulate the placement of “small cell” wireless technology in public rights of way, as wireless providers prepare to install such infrastructure that would support 5G communication services.

Four pieces of legislation, including Ordinance 789-19 and three resolutions that apply to regulating the placement of small cell infrastructure — often on existing utility poles — and establishing design guidelines, fees for placing the infrastructure and fines and penalties for any violations, were introduced Monday evening during the Board of Town Commissioners’ meeting.

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The Havre de Grace City Council will host a public hearing Thursday on a proposed ordinance to regulate the placement of cellular phone infrastructure within city rights of way, in response to recent federal regulations city leaders claim will strip local authority to regulate such infrastructure.

Bel Air is among a number of towns in Maryland adopting similar ordinances in the wake of a ruling by the FCC issued last September that takes some control from local governments to regulate the placement of small cell wireless equipment. The FCC’s ruling took effect Jan. 14.

The Havre de Grace City Council adopted an ordinance in January to define “small wireless facility” and its “support structure” and regulate their installation within city rights of way.

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The Bel Air town commissioners voted unanimously Monday evening to introduce all four pieces of legislation.

Town Planning Director Kevin Small said the 5G, or fifth-generation technology, facilitates the transfer of digital data “at a much greater speed” than current services, and some of the first locations for installing the supporting infrastructure will be “urban and suburban areas such as Bel Air.”

“It’s the intention of the town to allow our citizens to receive this beneficial service quickly while protecting the character and appearance of the community,” Small said.

A public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for March 18 at 7:30 p.m. in Bel Air Town Hall at 39 N. Hickory Ave. Copies of the legislation can be found on the town’s website.

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In response to a question from Commissioner Patrick Richards, Small said that public hearings are not required for resolutions as opposed to ordinances, but comments on all aspects of small cell wireless regulations, including the design guidelines, fees and penalties set in the three resolutions, can all be addressed at the same time on March 18.

“The first piece of legislation is basically the approval process that a vendor might go through,” Richards said of the ordinance.

Resolution 1124-19 covers guidance on the design, materials, locations, and even colors of small cell infrastructure within town-controlled rights of way.

The “most preferred” areas for such infrastructure are commercial and industrial areas, as well as “arterial” thoroughfares that are not near residential areas or historic properties, according to the resolution.

Commissioner Amy Chmielewski asked about small cell equipment being placed on buildings, noting “it may not be just poles popping up everywhere.”

Small said placing infrastructure on buildings would be covered under a different part of the town code, and the resolution applies only to rights of way.

Commissioner Brendan Hopkins praised Small, saying he has “done your best” to help provide the new 5G service in Bel Air but also keep the infrastructure out of residential neighborhoods.

Small said the reason for the design guidelines is “to be able to provide the town an objective criteria to be able to locate [equipment] in the proper areas.”

We have grown accustomed to trusting the telecommunications industry to advance technology to meet the consumer demand for higher speeds and more innovation without asking any questions about the risks. However, the fifth generation of advancement demands our attention and our concern.

Resolution 1125-19 sets a fee schedule, which Michael Krantz, director of administration and human resources, said is in line with minimum amounts recommended in the FCC’s ruling.

The resolution calls for a minimum $500 application fee to install up to five small wireless facilities with a $100 fee for each facility beyond the initial five. There is a $1,000 minimum fee if an applicant wants to install a pole to support one or more facilities.

An annual $270 minimum right-of-way access fee, payable once the equipment is installed and due each year on the anniversary of the installation, is also proposed.

Resolution 1126-19 sets a fee of $400 per day, per infraction, for violating small cell wireless facilities regulations.

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