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A “Small Wireless Facility” (SWF) or “Small Cell” is a type of wireless infrastructure. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines a small cell as any wireless facility that has an antenna no more than three cubic feet in volume, accessory equipment no more than 28 cubic feet in volume and are mounted on structures 50 feet or less in height (or 10% taller than adjacent structures, whichever is greater). They typically take the form of small antennas (3-4 feet tall) that are placed on existing infrastructure (such as utility poles) and are accompanied by equipment cabinets installed lower on the pole.
In order to meet increasing demand for mobile and data services, as well as future wireless technology, wireless service and infrastructure providers are supplementing traditional, larger cell phone towers with small cell facilities to densify their wireless networks. Small cells can also improve service today for areas lacking coverage.
Macro Wireless Facility” or “Macro Site” refers to a facility designed to provide wide-area service coverage and capacity. These are typically large installations with six to 12 antennas per carrier on tall towers or rooftops. Macro cells may also serve as a “hub” for distributed antenna system (DAS) nodes to connect back to a broader communications network.
No. Small cell facilities are allowed in the public right-of-way per federal and state laws. The limitations on the city’s authority are similar to those imposed on it with respect to other utilities (electric, gas, water).
However, the City may regulate aesthetics (i.e., how a facility looks and, within a technically feasible tolerance, where it is located). The City of South Lake Tahoe’s City Code ensures facilities proposed in the public right-of-way are placed in a way that minimizes their impacts within the areas that the City is allowed to regulate. In addition, applications are evaluated in compliance with Encroachment Permit requirements.
For more information, please see the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) website.
While the City of South Lake Tahoe reviews and approves the location of individual wireless applications, it must do so within parameters established by both federal and state laws that limit the City’s discretion.
Federal law (Telecommunications Act 1996) prohibits jurisdictions from considering health impacts when taking an action on a wireless application, if it meets the radio frequency levels established by the FCC and the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) Bulletin 65. Please refer to the FCC’s Wireless Devices Health Concerns webpage and Radiofrequency Safety FAQ for more information.
Both state and federal law place some limitations on the City’s authority to regulate wireless communications facilities. Denials are possible only in very narrow circumstances and can be issued only on a case-by-case basis.
Collectively, these federal and state laws prohibit cities from:
New wireless communication facilities are allowed by right in two planning areas of the City:
• Within the South Y Industrial Tract Community Plan
• Within the Commercial Mixed-Use Service District of the Tahoe Valley Area Plan
In all other areas, a Special Use Permit is required. The Special Use Permit requires a public hearing before the Zoning Administrator or the Planning Commission. In addition, a Building Permit is required, and an Encroachment Permit is required when located in the City’s right of way.
New Facilities require noticing when a Special Use Permit is required pursuant to City Section 6.55.640.
Cities cannot deny a carrier the ability to provide service either through explicit or implicit prohibitions (example: banning new wireless facilities or establishing a maximum cap).