CHEYENNE – A revised city wireless communications ordinance proposal is still a work in progress.
The Cheyenne City Council on Monday gave unanimous approval to the second reading of amendments to an ordinance that would establish guidelines for siting traditional wireless communication towers, as well as newer small wireless facilities, within zone districts and rights of way.
But more amendments are likely to come before the full council and its Public Services Committee get a third and final look at the ordinance next month.
Charles Bloom, the city’s planning and development director, told council members that the amended ordinance would apply to macro cell towers, as well as micro cell facilities, also known as small cell wireless. The latter is a new type of technology that provides connectivity to devices such as laptops and smartphones.
“This is an ordinance revision that is geared at paving the way for small cell wireless to be deployed in the city of Cheyenne and have it deployed in an orderly manner,” Bloom said.
He said the amendments would bring the city into compliance with a Federal Communications Commission order issued in January that allows for deployment of micro cells in public rights of way.
Bloom said the city could impose fees or charge for agreements with providers to lease space on the right of way.
He said the proposed ordinance mirrors current policy concerning macro cell towers, which includes requirements that the tower blend in with its surroundings in certain areas.
Bloom told council members that two wireless providers have asked the city for exemptions from the proposed ordinance regarding pole height limits and micro cell placement.
Eric Rasmussen with Charter Communications told council members that company officials have been working with Bloom on possible changes to the proposed ordinance, and those potential amendments will be brought up for discussion and consideration during Tuesday’s Public Services Committee meeting.
Bloom said a representative from Verizon will also attend next week’s meeting to bring possible ordinance revisions for consideration.
“We have put the city in a position where we have the ability to review these items to make sure that new installations blend in with the surrounding urban fabric, whether that be requiring a small cell facility to match the light pole, whether requiring it to blend in with the building it’s attached to,” Bloom said. “Those are all items that we have here.”
The proposed ordinance would mirror the FCC rule that establishes a “shot clock,” or time limit on cities to review new applications for facilities.
Bob Duchen of River Oaks Communications, who collaborated with the city to draft the ordinance amendments, said the proposal incorporates “best practices from other jurisdictions, not only from Wyoming, but from around the country.”
But he also told council members that the FCC ruling was designed to limit the rights of municipalities.
“The FCC made a statement to local governments that basically said, ‘You’re taking too long to act on these applications,’” Duchen said. “So the FCC not only did that, but also capped the amount of compensation (the city) can get.”
Duchen said the FCC rule is under appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
“We’re going to see what the Ninth Circuit does,” Duchen said. “It could throw out the FCC order. It could ratify the FCC order. It could throw out parts of the FCC order. All of that is in the ‘to be determined’ category.”
Cities across the country have gone to a “great amount of effort to protest what the FCC did,” Duchen said.
“We realize this is a technology we want for Cheyenne,” he said. “But there’s a limit in terms of how much the federal government can tell local governments to do.”
The proposed ordinance would provide a list of preferred locations for new macro cell towers before the city would approve a location in a residential district or within 200 feet of a residential district or the Greenway.
That preference list is as follows: city-owned or operated property and facilities not in the residential district or near the Greenway and not including rights of way; industrial zones; commercial zones; other non-residential districts; city rights of way in residential districts; parcels of land in residential districts, and designated historic structures or districts.
The proposed ordinance permits small wireless facilities subject to administrative approval in all zoning districts and public rights of way, as long as the pole or tower does not exceed the maximum height limit of the zoning district.
Councilman Dicky Shanor, who sponsored the ordinance, said data demands by customers are going up exponentially.
“What’s unique about it is that the FCC regulations are very descriptive, down to the inch, in terms of what we can do with these facilities, down to the days in terms of how long we have to (issue a permit for) these,” said “It’s critically important to the future of our community to make sure we have a regulatory environment that allows for the best technology available when it comes to wireless service.”
Shanor added that the city needs the small cell infrastructure to meet current 4G demands, as well as future 5G wireless needs.
The proposed ordinance also would require a noise study in situations where the facility is expected to be at least 72 decibels or above the ambient, or existing background, noise level. This is about the same noise level as a typical conversation, greater than the noise generated by a shower and less than that of a vacuum cleaner.
The noise study requirement would only apply to sites within 200 feet of a residential district or the Greenway.
The proposed ordinance would allow the city to request a third-party review of information submitted with the application and let the city recoup up to $3,000 for the cost of the review. This could include an attorney reviewing the application for completeness, an engineer reviewing submitted information to determine if a tower or pole is of excessive height or to complete outsourcing of a review.
The proposed ordinance’s language states that the “review is not intended to address whether radio frequencies are potentially harmful, as the FCC makes that determination.”
The proposed ordinance would also require submission of a radio frequency emission compliance report that indicates a proposed facility complies with applicable FCC radio frequency limits.