After months of work, Rehoboth officials introduced a wireless technology ordinance that allows communication companies to install structures up to 50 feet tall, almost anywhere they want in town.
During a commissioner workshop July 8, Commissioner Steve Scheffer said the Federal Communication Commission has said wireless technology is necessary infrastructure and issued rules limiting what municipalities can do. However, he said absent the ordinance, the city would have no say at all.
In September, to increase 5G infrastructure, the FCC issued a declaratory ruling taking away local government powers related to fees charged to wireless providers, location of new towers and the time municipalities have to approve or deny cell tower requests.
City Manager Sharon Lynn said wireless communication companies continue to ask the city to expand their service footprint.
Within the past year, AT&T has installed five cellphone towers – 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 – and has approached the city about adding two more.
This also marks the second summer 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.
Lynn said Verizon is planning to ask the city to make the water tower antennas permanent.
Scheffer was among the city officials who worked with Pittsburgh-based Cohen Law Group attorney Mike Roberts to craft the ordinance. The city hired the firm in February, on a contract not to exceed $5,000.
Roberts said the ordinance primarily addresses small wireless communication facilities, which companies are using to fill service gaps from large towers.
Under the ordinance, no new pole can interfere with the ingress or egress of a building; be placed within 10 feet of the edge of any driveway or public rights-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 can not be more than 3 cubic feet in volume.
Roberts said the city can charge fees for new antennas, but only presumptively reasonable fees. The ordinance calls for recurring fees of $270 per site per year. He said there’s an application fee of $1,000 for a new pole or $500 for an antenna on an existing pole.
Additionally, Roberts said because of the timeframe for approval of a small wireless facility – 60 days on an existing structure, 90 days on a new one – the city would have the authority to approve the structures administratively through the building and licensing department. He said the plan is to add the ordinance language to the city’s planning code.
There were a number of communication company representatives at the meeting, including AT&T’s Joe Divis, vice president of Mid-Atlantic external affairs. He said there’s been a 470,000 percent increase of wireless technology locally. He said the companies would prefer not to install 50-foot-tall structures, but each one is situationally specific.
Commissioner Lisa Schlosser said she thought the ordinance would pave the way for increased competition among Rehoboth providers.
Commissioner Stan Mills said he understood the need for the new towers, but he said he was still worried about their proliferation.
Stockley Street property owner Kent Swartz said he wanted commissioners to take a hard look at making it impossible for the wireless companies to install new towers at the Boardwalk end of the ocean block.
Following the discussion, City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas said the city would have to hold a public hearing because the ordinance would be a change to the zoning code. Commissioners agreed to have a resolution setting a public hearing in August on the agenda for the Friday, July 19 commissioner meeting.