TAKOMA PARK — Anticipating the deployment of small cell antennas in the city, the Takoma Park City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to enact a permitting process for the new technology.
“The purpose of the city resolution ordinance is really to make sure that, in our public right-of-way, we are protecting and preserving the aesthetics in the community as well as the property values and also looking at health, safety and environmental impacts,” said Mayor Kate Stewart.
Introduced by Council member Jarrett Smith (Ward 5), Stewart said the city council was “not happy” to be in a position to debate the legislation.
“This is preemption [and] is actually taking our authority away in the city … and we’re looking at how we can put in place protections for this city, in this ordinance, as well as making sure that we are not doing something that violates the rules and regulations, so that would invalidate any of the work that we’re doing,”
Due to the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, state and local governments are not permitted to challenge or restrict the deployment of small cell antennas.
On Sept. 26, the Federal Communications Commission issued new rules that: (1) shorten the time cities have to process applications for small cells to either 60 or 90 days, depending on whether they are mounted on an existing or new structure; (2) limit application fees for small cells to $100 per site, and recurring fees to $270 per site, per year, for small cells in the rights-of-way; (3) prohibit cities from assessing fees that include anything other than a “reasonable approximation” of “reasonable costs” directly related to maintaining the rights-of-way and the small cell facility; and (4) limit aesthetic review and requirements (including undergrounding and historic/environmental requirements) to those that are reasonable, comparable to requirements for other rights-of-way users, and published in advance.
The FCC rules went into effect on Jan. 14.
Though the conversation revolved around small cell antennas, the ordinance implements updates and expands the city’s laws for issuing right-of-way work permits in Chapter 11.12 of the municipal code.
With health and environmental impacts a concern for the deployment of the antennas, the ordinance allows the Director of Public Works, currently Daryl Braithwaite, to potentially waive minor variances from the requirements of this section if the variance does not jeopardize public health, safety, or welfare.
The ordinance also stipulates that antennas comply with height, width and other aesthetic requirements set by the city.
Other requirements include that communications equipment related to transmissions be placed on existing poles unless a needed pole does not exist or cannot hold additional equipment. If additional poles are required, the ordinance dictates that they be located to “provide adequate telecommunications coverage.”
Poles are limited to just three antennas and must not have “exterior wiring if the pole on which it is mounted can accommodate internal wiring or have exterior wiring enclosed in a shielded conduit.”
The law also states that: “If new technology becomes available that reduces noise [radio frequency waves between 30 kHz and 300 GHz] emissions, or energy usage, or that 308 reduces the size, visibility or obtrusiveness of a facility, the permittee shall replace outdated 309 facilities with current industry-standard facilities, after receiving all necessary permits and 310 approvals.”
During the public comments portion of the meeting prior to the vote, Nathan Campbell, Government Relations Project Manager for Crown Castle, one of the companies working to install small cell technology in Maryland, explained the importance of 5G wireless technology, noting that “80 percent of ‘911’ calls are placed from a wireless device.”
He also explained that 5G and small cell technology “brings the promise of job creation, economic investment, and development.”
Cynthia Mariel, a Ward 2 resident, asked Campbell to comment about the potential health impacts of the small cell antennas and if “he is living with a 5G cell tower next to his home.”
Stewart explained to Campbell that some of Crown Castle’s clients, which include Verizon, “have a bad history” due to “dangling wires” from utility poles.