It is an essential element of wireless technology that antennas propagate signals to the coverage area. Wireless technology relies on line-of-sight signal propagation between personal devices and wireless infrastructure for transmission to be effective. Without sufficient elevation above ground level, wireless antennas won’t accomplish the line-of-sight requirement. Wireless antennas have a unique need for elevation that most other land uses don’t have.
Typically, zoning district regulations include a height limit for structures within the given district. However, zoning codes often contain a paragraph of exceptions to district height limitations in the general or supplemental regulations section of the ordinance. Height-limit exceptions often exist for communications towers, chimneys, flagpoles, silos, smokestacks, spires, water tanks, and windmills.
There are numerous ways to express setback requirements for wireless structures. It could be a percentage of the structure height or a set amount of feet. Setback might be measured from the structure to the property line, nearest building, nearest residence, or nearest presence of residential zoning. These criteria often overrule the setback regulations of the zoning district where wireless structures are concerned.
Communication structures may pose a potential hazard for air traffic. Local governments are responsible for oversight of local airports and the protection of local air traffic navigation. In addition to rules promulgated by the FAA to regulate obstructions to air traffic, many local governments establish and enforce formulas for height regulations in proximity to local airports and air traffic flight pattern approaches. One factor driving local airport zoning is that FAA determinations don’t necessarily include a review of private airports.1
Site Plan Review
Permit approval scrutiny is often most intense where jurisdictions perform site plan reviews on each qualifying application. Prepare by obtaining the site plan review checklists and requirements during site search due diligence. Much of the site plan review details apply to the work the A&E firm performs as per the discussion in Module 19 Site Design—Standard Drawings and Reports and Module 20 Site Design—Supplemental Drawings and Reports.
Understand the process and where site plan review fits into the permit process and approval timeline. The tedious nature of a site plan review may have an impact on zone-ability if not all candidates require the same level of examination. The requirements of site plan review may have the effect to favor the selection of one candidate over another. Site plan review may be a precursor to subdivision platting requirements under certain conditions in some jurisdictions.
In some counties, a subdivision process replaces what is normally considered the zoning process; in others, the subdivision process supplements the zoning process. This could extend the time it takes to process permits for a proposal. A subdivision ordinance may mandate that ground space utilized for a wireless facility is platted and receives plat approval by county officials. Plat approval requires a special survey that meets local platting standards. The final plat is dated with signatures of jurisdiction officials on Mylar. Subdivision plats were discussed in relation to the different kinds of plat books in Module 8 Search Area Mapping and as supplemental drawings, where needed, as discussed in Module 20 Site Design—Supplemental Drawings and Reports.
Lease-ability Impact on Zone-ability
The zoning requirements of local jurisdictions for approval of the local permit entitlements must be acceptable to property owners. In my experience, I’ve had to disqualify otherwise desirable site locations because the property ownership admitted, in advance, that they didn’t have the fortitude to withstand opposition from local citizens for zoning permit approval. If opposition developed, they would insist that the application be withdrawn. I call it “weak knees.” Regardless of the property owner’s interest in the revenue opportunity, if they won’t guarantee loyalty to subsequent permit applications, the zone ability of the site is reduced.
Visit Local Permit Agencies, Meet the Planner
It is preferable to visit the building and planning departments and meet the planner in person to get to know who is expected to work with your applications. When you phone or visit the jurisdiction to discuss your assignment, speak with a planner. If possible, study the zoning map and zoning code first. Emails can effectively reference specific properties and ask for data and documentation not available on the planning department website. In larger jurisdictions with multiple planners, it is common for one planner to handle all wireless facility siting applications, though that’s not always the case.
Formal environmental review processes are administered by the FCC on the federal level for new wireless facility locations. This is discussed relative to the environmental consultant project role in the Module 14 Project Team. Local jurisdictions are concerned about many of the same environmental considerations as the FCC while processing local permit applications and administering their own practices in this regard, as discussed in Module 28 Local Permit Applications; Module 29 Planning Staff Review; and Module 30 Community Due Diligence.
Observation and recording of environmental conditions regarding a search area and specific properties under consideration are a part of the site acquisition consultant’s due diligence research responsibilities. Reporting on environmental conditions to the project team is performed as elaborated in Module 13 Search Area Report (SAR) and Module 15 Site Candidate Information Package (SCIP).