Anacortes, Wash., Mulls Updates to Cell Infrastructure Policies

Outdated wireless infrastructure code leaves questions to be answered for companies looking to roll out new small cell antennas. A city moratorium on new installations is set to expire in late February.

by Brandon Stone, Skagit Valley Herald / January 25, 2019
e.Republic/David Kidd

(TNS) — To account for new technology, the Anacortes Planning Commission is considering revisions to city code that deals with cellular infrastructure.

City Attorney Darcy Swetnam said the city’s old wireless service facilities code doesn’t address the questions telecommunications companies are asking them today, and staff have been working with outside counsel to revise the code.

Rather than rely on traditional cell towers, telecommunications companies are moving toward small cell technology — a small box usually mounted on existing power poles or street lights.

Small cell boxes have lower range but provide higher-speed data connections, Alan Bar, small cell strategy manager with Verizon, said at a Planning Commission meeting Jan. 16.

In August 2017, the City Council issued a six-month moratorium on new cellular infrastructure in order to give the city time to work on regulations that account for small cell infrastructure, Swetnam said.

After two six-month extensions, the moratorium is set to expire Feb. 28.

With an ever-increasing demand for high-speed cellular data, Bar said Verizon needs to deploy small cell boxes to meet it.

Rules from the Federal Communications Commission restrict the city from forbidding this kind of expansion, but it can make rollout gradual.

“We can’t prohibit small cell sites,” Swetnam said. “We can put some reasonable limits on what that looks like.”

Bar said Verizon is also requesting a faster permitting process.

Under the draft of the new code, Swetnam said installing a small cell box would require a land use permit, which requires a public comment period and City Council approval.

But at the Jan. 16 meeting, commissioners considered allowing city Planning Department staff to process the request internally.

Once the Planning Commission is done considering the code revisions, it will pass its recommendation on to the City Council, which will decide whether to adopt the revisions.

The public will have an opportunity to comment at a Planning Commission public hearing at 6 p.m. Jan. 30 at City Hall.

©2019 the Skagit Valley Herald (Mount Vernon, Wash.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.