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Wireless companies seek uniform approval process for new towers that would limit local authority

On May 8, the General Assembly’s Committee on Wireless Communications Infrastructure reviewed draft legislation that was proffered by the wireless industry. The legislation would limit what a locality may consider and/or require when reviewing a zoning application for construction of a new wireless support structure (i.e. tower or pole). Additionally, the proposal limits the fee a locality may charge to review an application.

In regards to the zoning approval process, the proposal hamstrings a locality from considering certain impacts that citizens may want addressed through public input. For example, a locality could not deny – based on height – an application for a 60-foot structure.

Additionally, the proposal states that any application for construction of a new wireless support structure shall be “deemed approved” if a locality fails to either approve or disapprove an application within 150 days. This is problematic. For instance, there will be occasions when a locality takes longer than 150 days to ultimately approve a wireless structure in order to fully weigh public input, especially if the process requires multiple public hearings. This constraint may unnecessarily rush a decision without fully vetting options to address citizen and neighborhood concerns.

In terms of review fees, the proposal caps what a locality may charge at $500 per application. In most cases this will not cover the required cost of public notice in a local newspaper, let alone staff time and resources necessary for review.

VACo expressed concerns with the proposal and continued to advocate for the deployment of wireless services to rural and under-served areas. Senator Ryan McDougle, committee co-chair, directed the wireless industry and local governments to meet and explore if an agreement could be reached. He stated, “If we can’t reach consensus, those of us on the legislative side will move forward.” The committee is tentatively scheduled to meet again in late June.

VACo Contact: Joe Lerch, AICP

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