Small-cell wireless facility regs approved by the town council

Shrouds that cover small-cell wireless facilities attached to poles are produced in a variety of styles. (Photo credit: Town of Queen Creek)

Queen Creek residents who experience poor cell phone reception could see an improvement to their service in the near future.

Members of the Queen Creek Town Council Feb. 7 unanimously approved an amendment to Section 6.9 of its zoning code regarding “Wireless Communications.” The amendment includes new provisions related to small wireless facilities.

The approval also includes an amendment to Town Code Chapter 16 “Utilities.” It has new provisions related to small wireless facilities and rates and fees for the use of the public right-of-way and town structures.

“We approved the changes to facilitate the expansion of cell phone coverage in our community,” Queen Creek Vice Mayor Emilena Turley told the Independent. “I’m most proud that we approved fees that are the lowest across the state. This means we paved the way for the community to get the best service for the best price.”

The new fee schedule is:

1) Use fee for use of right-of-way, including construction, installation, maintenance, modification, operation or replacement of the utility pole or collocation of small wireless facility: $0

2) Use fee for small wireless facility on town-owned pole in the right-of-way:

  • $50 per pole, per year, per collocation
  • $100 per small wireless facility, for the first five wireless facilities addressed in an application.
  • $50 for each additional small wireless facility (up to 25 similar small wireless facilities may be addressed in one application).
  • There is a maximum fee of $750 for utility poles.

3. Use fee for small wireless facility on a third party-owned pole in the right-of-way: $50 per pole, per year, per collocation.

The matter also was approved Feb. 6 by members of the Queen Creek Planning and Zoning Commission after a public hearing.

Queen Creek Planning Administrator Brett Burningham told the commissioners prior to the vote that a new state statute was approved by the Arizona Legislature last summer allowing small wireless facilities to be placed on utility poles in public rights-of-way.

The legislation required municipal regulations be in place or implemented within six months of the legislation coming to fruition, he said.

The amendment also regulates the construction and usage of monopoles within the right-of-way. It sets standards for issues such as locations, security fencing, lighting and landscaping, among others.

The amendment defines a monopole as a wireless support structure that is not more than 40 inches in diameter at the ground level and that has all of the wireless facilities mounted on or inside of the pole. It does not include utility poles or towers.

A new or replacement pole may be installed without zoning review if one of the two height requirements is met:

  1. Up to a 10-foot increase, not to exceed 50 feet total (whichever is less); or
  2. Up to 40 feet above ground level.

“The purpose of amendment of the new equipment is to help provide a better level of service for our residents,” Mr. Burningham told the commissioners during the Feb. 6 meeting.

He added the town is working with wireless providers to make sure their service capacity keeps up with the demand created by new homes being built and the population increase that accompanies them.

He said the town is encouraging that very tall monopoles be located in areas outside the public rights-of-way and in areas more appropriate for large structures.

He cited school ballfields and farm regions as examples.

Commissioner Troy Young asked about the capacity of a single monopole, but Mr. Burningham deferred to Assistant Town Manager Bruce Gardner for a response.

Mr. Gardner has been working with technology companies and legislators for nine months to put all the details in place for the small cell wireless facilities, he said.

The facilities, he said, will supplement, not replace, the existing wireless-service sites.

He noted about 40,000 drivers travel through Queen Creek. Using their cell phone, which drains the town’s service capacity, he said.

In general, a pole can hold four small cell wireless facility units. The cannisters covering the units cannot exceed 6 cubic feel in volume. They cannot be larger than 18 inches in diameter, he said during a phone interview Feb. 14.

During the planning commission’s meeting, Mr. Gardner said the town has about 5,000 light poles. More than 90 percent of them are owned by the Salt River Projects utilities company.

That means small cell wireless facility vendors initially will be working with SRP to install their product, Mr. Gardner told the commissioners.

Mr. Gardner noted the town has five major cell phone service providers — AT&T, Metro PCS, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

That means realistically, there could be five small-cell wireless sites for every mile in the community, he said.

Could the addition of the small-cell wireless units create an eyesore for residents and passersby? Not if the cell phone reception is good, said Craig Barnes.

“We need better service,” the local businessman and former town councilman said during a phone interview. “My home reception is terrible, and my home is right behind Target (in the Queen Creek Marketplace). Everyone in our neighborhood complains. (The units) are OK as long as they are not recording people and phone calls or watching them.”

Laurie Vilhauer commutes from her Chandler home to her job at Heart Cry Church, 9339 Hunt Highway, east of Sossaman Road in Queen Creek. She has never experienced problems with her cell phone reception, she said during an interview.

Still, Ms. Vilhauer said she wouldn’t mind if the units were placed on the utility poles near the church, but she asserts she has never heard her co-workers complain about their phone service.

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