The wireless industry will once again be pressing lawmakers to pass legislation that would severely limit local authority for the siting of new wireless support structures (towers, poles). A preview of potential legislation expected can be found here, and was presented to the General Assembly’s Committee on Wireless Communications Infrastructure last September.
Most significantly, the industry proposal prohibits a locality from requiring a special exception, special use permit, or variance be obtained for any support structures that are 50 feet or less above ground level. The measure also limits how much a locality may charge to review applications. Additionally, localities would be limited in addressing the visual impact of any wireless tower or pole, regardless of height.
During the 2017 legislative session VACo succeeded in preserving local authority to review and approve new wireless structures. As originally drafted, SB 1282 (McDougle) would have gutted local land use authority for the siting of new wireless support structures and forced the use of local government property without adequate compensation. However, upon completion of lengthy negotiations with the wireless industry, VACo agreed to support a substitute bill (subsequently signed into law) that only applies to zoning approval for the placement of small cell facilities (i.e. antennas) on existing structures.
As part of the agreement, VACo sent a letter to the patrons of the legislation with a commitment to work with the wireless industry in expanding service to rural areas. While we stand ready to honor that commitment, we steadfastly oppose any weakening of local authority for the siting of new wireless support structures.
Once legislation is introduced, we will follow up with additional updates. Stay tuned.
VACo Contact: Joe Lerch, AICP