Less than two months after Rehoboth commissioners approved the permanent placement of Verizon antennas on the downtown water tower, the communication company has approached the city about placing 18 cellphone antennas on the Boardwalk.
Public Works Director Kevin Williams said Nov. 17 Verizon has not officially submitted an application, but he expects them to do so in the coming weeks. Until they do, he said, it’s unknown if they’re going to ask for all 18 antennas at once or in smaller groups.
In an email Nov. 22, David Weissmann, Verizon spokesman, said the company hopes to install short-range, lower-power antennas on Boardwalk light poles before next summer. Without specifying how many, he confirmed an application will be submitted in the next few weeks.
Verizon’s future submission will be a first for the city since it passed its wireless technology ordinance in September. 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 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.
It will be the first test for the ordinance, but not a first for new cellphone towers.
Earlier this year, prior to passage of the ordinance, Rehoboth allowed AT&T to install five antennas – two on Rehoboth Avenue, one on Wilmington, one on top of the information center at the Delaware Avenue end of the Boardwalk and one on the Boardwalk at Baltimore Avenue. The city and AT&T have a 10-year agreement, which automatically renews for four successive five-year terms. AT&T will pay the city $2,000 a year for each installation, which is subject to an increase of 5 percent per term.
Then in October, after three years of temporary antennas, Rehoboth Beach commissioners voted in favor of allowing Verizon to permanently install cellphone antennas on the downtown water tower. According to the contract, Verizon would pay the city $30,000 a year for the ability to use the water tower. The rental price increases 2 percent every year. In return, Verizon receives 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week access.
Williams said some lessons have been learned because of the installation of the AT&T poles. He said the poles installed were not the ones included in original schematics, which also didn’t include standalone meter boxes off the pole for the power company.
Williams said there’s some concern Verizon and other vendors, primarily AT&T, may not work together when using a uniform pole. He said he would hate to see these antennas result in light poles on the Boardwalk at different heights.
The city is not optimistic they’re going to work together, said Williams.
Weissmann said Verizon is working with Rehoboth to come up with a design that will achieve uniformity to the greatest extent feasible and minimize the aesthetic impact to the Boardwalk.
In addition to Boardwalk antennas, Weissman said Verizon will likely pursue additional small wireless facilities in Rehoboth, but the company is still determining the quantity and location. He said these small wireless facilities have an effective range of several hundred to 1,000 feet.
Changes to wireless technology ordinance approved
During a meeting Nov. 15, commissioners unanimously approved two changes to the city’s wireless technology ordinance.
First, commissioners changed wording in the ordinance to say certain wireless communications facilities would be approved by conditional use instead of special exceptions. The change moves approval of new structures for antennas to the board of commissioners from the board of adjustment, because commissioners wanted the power to approve.
When this change was first discussed, City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas said besides who approves the facility, the biggest difference is that unlike special exceptions, conditional-use applications are presumed to be approved, but with conditions.
Second, the commissioners approved a schedule for applications and annual fees that was established by the Federal Communications Commission. For applications, companies will have to pay $250 for a nontower wireless communication facility and tower-based outside of the right of way; $500 for up to 5 small wireless communication facilities and $100 per facility over 5; and $1,000 for a small wireless communication facility requiring a new pole. Annual right-of-way fees include $500 for nontower and $270 for small wireless communication facilities.