Spring 2019

Capping a six month effort by the City Council, Planning Board, and city staff, the City of Edmonds updated its wireless communication facilities ordinance on April 2 in order to meet an April 14, 2019 deadline imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt aesthetic standards for small wireless facilities. 

Small wireless facilities are basically smaller versions of the ‘macro’ facilities seen on buildings, utility poles and monopoles for the past 20 years. Wireless network providers will be deploying small cells to meet increasing consumer demand particularly in densely populated areas because data usage is increasing at a tremendous rate. Small cells will close gaps in existing 4G coverage and will provide the framework for 5G technology when it is rolled out over the next few years.  

While small cell antennas and the related equipment will be physically ‘smaller’ in size than their ‘macro’ counterparts, more small cells will be needed to cover a given area because they are less powerful. For example, one ‘macro’ tower signal might be able to cover many square miles whereas a small cell signal might only cover several hundred square feet. As a result, it is easy to imagine that there could be hundreds of small cells deployed over the next decade in Edmonds since there are several carriers wanting to provide service across the city.  

Edmonds chose to regulate both the location and appearance of small cells in order to minimize their visual impact (local governments cannot exclude providers and cannot regulate based on health impacts). Locating small cells on private property is encouraged where possible as long as the antennas and equipment are concealed or camouflaged. To locate in the right-of-way, as is generally preferred by the wireless industry, providers will have to step through five location options based on a preferred aesthetic hierarchy. A wireless carrier can only step from one location to the next if the former is technically infeasible or not allowed by the pole owner. The hierarchy preferences step through full concealment options (keeping wires and equipment hidden) down to unconcealed/partially camouflaged options: inside a hollow utility pole; inside freestanding small cell or light pole; on top of an existing wood utility pole; on the side of an existing wood utility pole; and, lastly, mounted on utility wires between poles (referred to as strand-mounts). Photos of each type of installation are shown below:


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