After months of discussion, Rehoboth Beach board of commissioners approved a wireless technology ordinance during a special meeting Sept. 9. The vote was 6-1.
The ordinance was created in response to a September 2018 ruling from the Federal Communications Commission determining that wireless technology is necessary infrastructure. The ruling took away local government power to charge fees to wireless providers and limit the location of new towers. It also established timelines for municipalities to approve or deny cell tower requests.
At a cost of $5,000, the city hired Pittsburgh-based Cohen Law Group attorney Mike Roberts to help draft the ordinance.
During a meeting in July, when the ordinance was introduced, Roberts said the FCC has established, and the city could adopt, fee ceilings of $1,000 for a new pole, $500 for an antenna on an existing pole and recurring fees of $270 per site per year.
Ultimately, the city decided to institute a $250 application fee. In an email Sept. 14, City Manager Sharon Lynn said both the application fee and higher fees were discussed by the commissioners, but they opted to go with a lower fee as a matter of fairness.
Under the ordinance, no new pole can interfere with ingress or egress to/from a building; be placed within 10 feet of the edge of any driveway or public right-of-way directly opposite any driveway; or be in violation of design standards.
Under the ordinance, a small wireless facility is defined as a structure with an antenna mount that is less than 50 feet in height, no more than 10 percent taller than adjacent structures and not more than 28 cubic feet in volume. An antenna cannot be more than 3 cubic feet in volume.
The city code enforcement officer is the official determining if small wireless antenna designs comply. Wording in the code allows the city manager to impose reasonable conditions on aesthetically sensitive areas, such as the Boardwalk or beach.
Commissioner Stan Mills was the no vote. He said the ordinance didn’t do enough to protect the eastern edge of the Boardwalk. He said he would hate to see cellphone towers proliferate on the Boardwalk.
Wireless providers have asked the city to install small cellphone towers.
AT&T has installed five cellphone towers within the past year – two on Rehoboth Avenue, one on Wilmington, one on top of the information center at Delaware Avenue and Boardwalk, and one on the Boardwalk at Baltimore Avenue – and has approached the city about adding two more.
Two summers in a row, Verizon has installed cellphone antennas on the downtown water tower. In 2017, Verizon set up a mobile tower called cell on wheels next to the water tower.