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City Adopts Temporary Ordinances Governing Design of Small Cell Facilities

Small Cell Antenna
Example of small cell equipment on Utility pole
Jan 16, 2019 - In September last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a new rule related to the deployment of small cell facilities. “Small cell” antennas typically support the expansion of the 5G wireless communication network, and are commonly mounted on existing utility poles, along with a small equipment box; the antennas are smaller than current cell tower-style antennas.  This nationwide rule took effect this week on January 14, 2019, and significantly limits the City’s authority, requiring the City to:
  • Approve the installation of any new small cell facility, generally within 60 days
  • Allow new small cell facilities to be located on existing utility poles
  • Allow installation of new small cell poles in the public right-of-way 
The City can regulate only the design and aesthetics of new small cell facilities, provided that the design standards are adopted and published in advance of any submitted application; these standards cannot have the effect of materially inhibiting the installation process.
Because the City’s current regulations never contemplated the emergence of small cell facilities, the City Council last night approved unanimously an emergency ordinance to protect the Mercer Island community by adopting temporary design standards.  This will allow time for a thoughtful conversation around permanent design standards in consultation with the community - as a result, there will be a public hearing on March 5, and the emergency ordinance will be in effect through mid-July.

“We recognize that many people in the community do not like the idea of a new small cell antenna on their neighborhood street,” said Evan Maxim, Director of the City’s Community Planning and Development Department. “The City Council has taken what action it can to establish temporary design standards that will minimize impacts, while still complying with the new Federal law.”

Read supporting Council Meeting materials
View Emergency Ordinance 19C-02

For more information, contact Evan Maxim, Director, Community Planning and Development


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