Cell Tower Construction: Zoning and Permitting Requirements

Cell tower locations must be approved by a municipalities zoning and permitting committees prior to being installed, unless a municipality does not have certain requirements in place for the installation of a cell tower or rooftop equipment.  In some cases, this is as easy as applying for a building permit from the local jurisdiction. However, some zoning and planning boards have created more rigorous requirements for the placement of cell tower equipment on a building or piece of raw land.

What is the Usual Zoning Process?

In some instances the zoning approval process includes public hearings and notices to all adjacent property owners. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 set forth certain standards that do not allow a municipality to “prohibit” the placement of cell towers.

So what powers does a local zoning or permitting body have?

These municipalities are allowed to regulate how cell tower construction is handled and where cell tower locations are allowed, as long as the overall impact is not to eliminate cell phone service in that area. Accordingly, certain municipalities have enacted applicable ordinances that set forth how telecom equipment can be constructed. A landowner should be aware that every municipality is different but some of the common factors that municipalities must take into consideration are:

  • Cell towers are prohibited in residential zoning unless special permitting is given.
  • Construction of cell towers must be directed toward industrial and commercial zoned locations of that city.
  • Municipalities must enforce certain height restrictions as it relates to the construction of a cell tower. 
  • Require fencing to secure the cell tower, rooftop site or even a micro or mini cell tower location as well.
  • Zoning and permitting bodies usually require that new cell towers are not built until it is demonstrated that no existing cell  towers or structures (such as rooftops, water towers) can accommodate the wireless carrier’s equipment usually referred to as the co-location requirement.

Municipalities usually require that notice be provided to landowners in the area to make them aware of the proposed cell tower construction or rooftop installation. Many times public hearings are required and this allows local property owners to comment on the proposed tower or rooftop installation. Cell phone carriers can spend tens of thousands of dollars and several months to get zoning approval for the construction of tower or rooftop equipment on a location with no guarantee that it will be approved.

It is common today to have anti-cell tower advocates make their presence known at local zoning hearings to oppose the placement of telecom equipment in their area. These advocates will sometimes claim that there are significant cell phone tower dangers, including certain health risks posed by construction of a tower in their neighborhood. These advocates are however faced with the fact that the, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 prohibits local jurisdictions from denying an application on the basis that construction of a cell tower is “dangerous” or “unhealthy.” As long as the proposed cell tower location meets FCC regulations and standards, such cell tower site will be presumed to be safe.

Advocates sometimes also state that the construction of a cell tower at a certain location is going to depreciate the value of their properties and also sometimes further provide that the construction of cell tower at a particular location will have a negative aesthetic impact on their property. Cell phone towers are sometimes visible but rarely is the impact so great that it causes harm to the adjacent properties. There are many ways that cell towers can be concealed or hidden; including construction in the form of fake trees, fake cactus, fake bell towers, fake flagpoles, etc…

We invite you to contact Vertical Consultants with any questions you may have regarding the placement of cell tower or rooftop equipment in your neighborhood and what the zoning restrictions and requirements might be part of the process as we have decades of experience with interpreting what requirements exist in your area.

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