Changes Proposed To Strengthen OC’s Cell Tower Ordinance

OCEAN CITY — In an effort to bolster the town’s existing regulations on small wireless facilities after recent and current challenges, resort officials this week approved changes to enhance and improve the existing ordinance.

Over the last several months, town officials have had before them multiple requests to install small-cell wireless towers in residential neighborhoods in the north end of the resort. Earlier this year, Crown Castle submitted requests for three locations including Old Landing Road, Bering Road and Marlin Drive. The request for those applications were denied by a narrow council vote and are now the subject of a federal suit filed by Crown Castle challenging the town’s denials. Next, Crown Castle submitted requests for three more small wireless facilities in the Montego Bay community, but those requests were also denied after a spirited public hearing.

In response to the requests and subsequent challenges, City Engineer Terry McGean has been working on revisions to the town’s small wireless facilities ordinance, and an associated resolution that will codify those ordinance changes.

“What you have before you is essentially a pyramid of five documents that build one upon the other to enhance and improve our regulation of small cell facilities,” he said. “The first document you have is a modification of our utility ordinance and clarifies some things. The second document is a resolution that more formally adopts the provide policy that the town has and enhances that policy.”

McGean explained there is a small ordinance change included that clarifies penalties and there is a revised utility installation agreement for all of the utilities whenever they want to do any underground work in the town. The final document presented for approval is an actual specific permit that addresses small cell wireless facilities.

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“We have definitions that cover exactly what is in our utility ordinance,” he said. “We clarified who can install what in our right-of-way and who can install underground in our right-of-way.”

McGean said the resolution requires a specific permit for the installation or modification of small wireless facilities.

“It continues the prohibition of small wireless facilities in our R-1 and MH-1 neighborhoods without the expressed approval of the Mayor and Council,” he said. “It also implements minimum spacing requirements for small wireless facility installations. We’re attempting to address the concerns from the council on what’s to prevent one company from coming it and a second company coming in right behind them and installing a pole immediately adjacent to it.”

McGean said there were other sections in the proposed documents that attempt to limit the proliferation of small wireless facilities.

“It requires applicants to state which part of the FCC law they believe their proposed installation falls under and to factually support the claim,” he said. “It requires the applicant to submit a full network plan. Again, I believe that’s been a concern of the Mayor and Council. Are we talking about five towers, 10 or 100?”

Council Secretary Tony DeLuca asked if the documents as proposed define exactly what a small cell tower is.

“It does essentially by way of how the FCC defines it,” McGean said. “The FCC has some very specific regulations and definitions as to exactly how big these things can be and still be considered small cell facilities and how big the related equipment can be. What we tried to do in our definitions is reference the FCC definitions.”

Councilman Mark Paddack praised the depth and detail of the proposed ordinance changes and made a motion to move the ordinance to first reading. The motion passed on a 6-0 vote with Council President Matt James absent.

“These documents are 30 pages long and there is a ton of information in here,” he said. “It is very detailed. I want to make sure it will withstand a legal challenge …”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.