Boulder County, Colo., Commission Updates Small Cell Rules

Commissioners approved updates to their rules for approval to place cell signal-boosting equipment in public right-of-way, opening the door for their potential siting on local open space property.

by Sam Lounsberry, Daily Camera / December 16, 2019
Shutterstock/Lisic

(TNS) — Boulder County, Colo., commissioners on Thursday took issue with state and federal laws constraining local government regulation of small cell wireless facilities.

Commissioners approved updates to their rules for approval to place cell signal-boosting equipment in public right-of-way, opening the door for their potential siting on local open space property with a waiver from the county Land Use Department director.

Specifically, state and federal rules preempt local governments from basing regulation on environmental effects of radio frequency emissions, discriminating among different providers and “effectively prohibiting” the provision of wireless services, including both coverage and data capacity, through exorbitant fees or other requirements for providers.

Federal guidelines also require local government action on an application for a small cell wireless facility — which are normally placed in highly traveled areas, such as downtown shopping centers, athletic stadiums or college campuses to speed up wireless data transmission — within 60 days for a proposal to colocate the equipment on an existing structure, and within 90 days for a new structure.

Boulder residents earlier this year brought health concerns regarding the rollout of 5G cell transmission technology to Boulder City Council, which learned it had little power to further regulate the wireless towers that have already been approved for sites throughout the city.

“It is always disappointing when we are so preempted by state and federal government to really feel like we don’t have meaningful land use authority over something our constituents care so much about,” Commissioner Elise Jones said. “But that is indeed the situation we’re in. … This was the best possible set of design guidelines and code update to accompany the authority we do have.”

Commissioner Matt Jones agreed.

“Given the restraints we have from the federal and state government, I think we’re doing as well as we can, and we’ll have to let our constituents know that,” he said.

The updated county code supports colocating the facilities on existing structures when possible, along with placing such cell facilities in existing structures like traffic signs, traffic signals and light poles so the presence of the small cell facility is less apparent, or integrating the equipment in an architectural feature of a structure or attaching it to an outdoor fixture, such as a traffic signal, light standard, utility pole or flagpole.

While officials initially considered prohibiting small cell wireless facilities from historic districts and open space, they rethought the rules for open space at Verizon’s request.

A staff review found “there may be limited situations in which it is appropriate to place a small cell wireless facility on land owned or maintained by county Parks and Open Space or city of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks,” county staff stated in notes to commissioners. “For example, a small cell wireless facility may be appropriate next to disturbed areas on Parks and Open Space or OSMP land, such as bathrooms at trail heads, or sports recreation areas.”

The county land use director can waive the prohibition on open space placement if he or she “determines it is appropriate to do so based on consideration of technological feasibility, environmental and visual impacts and other considerations” deemed pertinent to review, the staff notes stated.

The updated rules also call for any towers or poles placed near or within city or county open space to be designed to minimize the potential for birds to perch upon them.

©2019 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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