If things go as planned, Verizon could have as many as 30 new wireless antennas installed in downtown Rehoboth Beach by the beginning of next summer.
During a commissioner meeting Aug. 21, City Manager Sharon Lynn said the wireless communication company submitted 19 permit applications for the Boardwalk and five permit applications for Rehoboth Avenue. She said the company is looking to start construction after the summer season, with installation done by the beginning of the year or at least by next summer season.
In a follow-up email Aug. 24, Public Works Director Kevin Williams said the number of applications Verizon has submitted is 28. An antenna at 1 Wilmington Ave. was counted twice, so the number of Boardwalk antennas is really 18, he said.
Verizon has also submitted applications for pole-mounted antennas at 6 Christian St., 39 Baltimore Ave., 1 Wilmington Ave., 100 Philadelphia St. and 707 King Charles Ave.
During the meeting, Lynn said the Rehoboth Avenue antennas would be similar to the AT&T antennas incorporated in streetlights that were installed two years ago. It’s the same manufacturer, she said.
Verizon is also expected to replace the light poles for its Boardwalk antennas. Williams said Verizon has been working with the city and the original manufacturer of the light poles to make new poles as similar to the existing poles as possible. Verizon has indicated the new light poles are almost identical, with more space inside the pole to house most of the gear associated with the cell antenna.
“I haven’t seen the engineered drawings yet, so it's hard for me to comment on exactly how similar they are,” said Williams. “But they’ve told us they are the same height, same visual look, just a very small increase in the diameter.”
Williams said the Boardwalk locations are at Lake Avenue, Surfside Place, Grenoble Place, Virginia Avenue, Olive Avenue, Maryland Avenue, two at Baltimore Avenue, one at Wilmington Avenue (not 1 Wilmington Ave.), Delaware Avenue, Brooklyn Avenue, Laurel Street, Philadelphia Street, New Castle Street, Stockley Street, Rodney Street, St. Lawrence Street and Prospect Street.
This might not be the end of application submissions for Verizon. Williams said the company has indicated verbally to the city that there are five additional sites it is planning to submit for approval.
The new Verizon antennas were revealed during a discussion on changing the city’s wireless technology ordinance.
Rehoboth passed its wireless technology ordinance about a year ago. It was created in response to a September 2018 ruling from the Federal Communications Commission determining that wireless technology is necessary infrastructure. The ruling limited local government power to charge fees to wireless providers and determine the location of new towers or antennas. It also established timelines for municipalities to approve or deny cell tower requests.
Heather Metz, a member of the city’s environment committee, presented a quick summary of what the committee recommended as changes, including requiring a 60-foot setback from any residential dwelling for new facilities, unless approved through a conditional use; notifying all residents within 500 feet of a proposed location; posting all applications to the city website; and making sure facilities comply with FCC requirements.
Metz said there are at least two lawsuits working their way through the courts right now in other jurisdictions where municipalities are questioning the FCC ruling and the power it gives wireless communication companies. She suggested the city put a hold on all new applications, including the Verizon ones, until court rulings are made.
It’s been a busy year for Verizon locally. Earlier this year, the company installed 15 new small cell antennas on Route 1 in Delaware Department of Transportation’s rights of way, from Route 9 to the Maryland border.
Last October, Rehoboth Beach commissioners allowed Verizon to permanently install cellphone antennas on the downtown water tower.