Code of Virginia

Code of Virginia
Title 15.2. Counties, Cities and Towns
6/15/2019

Article 7.2. Zoning for Wireless Communications Infrastructure.

§ 15.2-2316.3. Definitions.

As used in this article, unless the context requires a different meaning:

"Administrative review-eligible project" means a project that provides for:

1. The installation or construction of a new structure that is not more than 50 feet above ground level, provided that the structure with attached wireless facilities is (i) not more than 10 feet above the tallest existing utility pole located within 500 feet of the new structure within the same public right-of-way or within the existing line of utility poles; (ii) not located within the boundaries of a local, state, or federal historic district; (iii) not located inside the jurisdictional boundaries of a locality having expended a total amount equal to or greater than 35 percent of its general fund operating revenue, as shown in the most recent comprehensive annual financial report, on undergrounding projects since 1980; and (iv) designed to support small cell facilities; or

2. The co-location on any existing structure of a wireless facility that is not a small cell facility.

"Antenna" means communications equipment that transmits or receives electromagnetic radio signals used in the provision of any type of wireless communications services.

"Base station" means a station that includes a structure that currently supports or houses an antenna, transceiver, coaxial cables, power cables, or other associated equipment at a specific site that is authorized to communicate with mobile stations, generally consisting of radio transceivers, antennas, coaxial cables, power supplies, and other associated electronics.

"Co-locate" means to install, mount, maintain, modify, operate, or replace a wireless facility on, under, within, or adjacent to a base station, building, existing structure, utility pole, or wireless support structure. "Co-location" has a corresponding meaning.

"Department" means the Department of Transportation.

"Existing structure" means any structure that is installed or approved for installation at the time a wireless services provider or wireless infrastructure provider provides notice to a locality or the Department of an agreement with the owner of the structure to co-locate equipment on that structure. "Existing structure" includes any structure that is currently supporting, designed to support, or capable of supporting the attachment of wireless facilities, including towers, buildings, utility poles, light poles, flag poles, signs, and water towers.

"Micro-wireless facility" means a small cell facility that is not larger in dimension than 24 inches in length, 15 inches in width, and 12 inches in height and that has an exterior antenna, if any, not longer than 11 inches.

"New structure" means a wireless support structure that has not been installed or constructed, or approved for installation or construction, at the time a wireless services provider or wireless infrastructure provider applies to a locality for any required zoning approval.

"Project" means (i) the installation or construction by a wireless services provider or wireless infrastructure provider of a new structure or (ii) the co-location on any existing structure of a wireless facility that is not a small cell facility. "Project" does not include the installation of a small cell facility by a wireless services provider or wireless infrastructure provider on an existing structure to which the provisions of § 15.2-2316.4 apply.

"Small cell facility" means a wireless facility that meets both of the following qualifications: (i) each antenna is located inside an enclosure of no more than six cubic feet in volume, or, in the case of an antenna that has exposed elements, the antenna and all of its exposed elements could fit within an imaginary enclosure of no more than six cubic feet and (ii) all other wireless equipment associated with the facility has a cumulative volume of no more than 28 cubic feet, or such higher limit as is established by the Federal Communications Commission. The following types of associated equipment are not included in the calculation of equipment volume: electric meter, concealment, telecommunications demarcation boxes, back-up power systems, grounding equipment, power transfer switches, cut-off switches, and vertical cable runs for the connection of power and other services.

"Standard process project" means any project other than an administrative review-eligible project.

"Utility pole" means a structure owned, operated, or owned and operated by a public utility, local government, or the Commonwealth that is designed specifically for and used to carry lines, cables, or wires for communications, cable television, or electricity.

"Water tower" means a water storage tank, or a standpipe or an elevated tank situated on a support structure, originally constructed for use as a reservoir or facility to store or deliver water.

"Wireless facility" means equipment at a fixed location that enables wireless communications between user equipment and a communications network, including (i) equipment associated with wireless services, such as private, broadcast, and public safety services, as well as unlicensed wireless services and fixed wireless services, such as microwave backhaul, and (ii) radio transceivers, antennas, coaxial, or fiber-optic cable, regular and backup power supplies, and comparable equipment, regardless of technological configuration.

"Wireless infrastructure provider" means any person that builds or installs transmission equipment, wireless facilities, or wireless support structures, but that is not a wireless services provider.

"Wireless services" means (i) "personal wireless services" as defined in 47 U.S.C. § 332(c)(7)(C)(i); (ii) "personal wireless service facilities" as defined in 47 U.S.C. § 332(c)(7)(C)(ii), including commercial mobile services as defined in 47 U.S.C. § 332(d), provided to personal mobile communication devices through wireless facilities; and (iii) any other fixed or mobile wireless service, using licensed or unlicensed spectrum, provided using wireless facilities.

"Wireless services provider" means a provider of wireless services.

"Wireless support structure" means a freestanding structure, such as a monopole, tower, either guyed or self-supporting, or suitable existing structure or alternative structure designed to support or capable of supporting wireless facilities. "Wireless support structure" does not include any telephone or electrical utility pole or any tower used for the distribution or transmission of electrical service.

2017, c. 835; 2018, cc. 835, 844.

§ 15.2-2316.4. Zoning; small cell facilities.

A. A locality shall not require that a special exception, special use permit, or variance be obtained for any small cell facility installed by a wireless services provider or wireless infrastructure provider on an existing structure, provided that the wireless services provider or wireless infrastructure provider (i) has permission from the owner of the structure to co-locate equipment on that structure and (ii) notifies the locality in which the permitting process occurs.

B. Localities may require administrative review for the issuance of any required zoning permits for the installation of a small cell facility by a wireless services provider or wireless infrastructure provider on an existing structure. Localities shall permit an applicant to submit up to 35 permit requests on a single application. In addition:

1. A locality shall approve or disapprove the application within 60 days of receipt of the complete application. Within 10 days after receipt of an application and a valid electronic mail address for the applicant, the locality shall notify the applicant by electronic mail whether the application is incomplete and specify any missing information; otherwise, the application shall be deemed complete. Any disapproval of the application shall be in writing and accompanied by an explanation for the disapproval. The 60-day period may be extended by the locality in writing for a period not to exceed an additional 30 days. The application shall be deemed approved if the locality fails to act within the initial 60 days or an extended 30-day period.

2. A locality may prescribe and charge a reasonable fee for processing the application not to exceed:

a. $100 each for up to five small cell facilities on a permit application; and

b. $50 for each additional small cell facility on a permit application.

3. Approval for a permit shall not be unreasonably conditioned, withheld, or delayed.

4. The locality may disapprove a proposed location or installation of a small cell facility only for the following reasons:

a. Material potential interference with other pre-existing communications facilities or with future communications facilities that have already been designed and planned for a specific location or that have been reserved for future public safety communications facilities;

b. The public safety or other critical public service needs;

c. Only in the case of an installation on or in publicly owned or publicly controlled property, excluding privately owned structures where the applicant has an agreement for attachment to the structure, aesthetic impact or the absence of all required approvals from all departments, authorities, and agencies with jurisdiction over such property; or

d. Conflict with an applicable local ordinance adopted pursuant to § 15.2-2306, or pursuant to local charter on a historic property that is not eligible for the review process established under 54 U.S.C. § 306108.

5. Nothing shall prohibit an applicant from voluntarily submitting, and the locality from accepting, any conditions that otherwise address potential visual or aesthetic effects resulting from the placement of small cell facilities.

6. Nothing in this section shall preclude a locality from adopting reasonable rules with respect to the removal of abandoned wireless support structures or wireless facilities.

C. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this section, the installation, placement, maintenance, or replacement of micro-wireless facilities that are suspended on cables or lines that are strung between existing utility poles in compliance with national safety codes shall be exempt from locality-imposed permitting requirements and fees.

2017, c. 835.

§ 15.2-2316.4:1. Zoning; other wireless facilities and wireless support structures.

A. A locality shall not require that a special exception, special use permit, or variance be obtained for the installation or construction of an administrative review-eligible project but may require administrative review for the issuance of any zoning permit, or an acknowledgement that zoning approval is not required, for such a project.

B. A locality may charge a reasonable fee for each application submitted under subsection A or for any zoning approval required for a standard process project. The fee shall not include direct payment or reimbursement of third-party fees charged on a contingency basis or a result-based arrangement. Upon request, a locality shall provide the applicant with the cost basis for the fee. A locality shall not charge market-based or value-based fees for the processing of an application. If the application is for:

1. An administrative review-eligible project, the fee shall not exceed $500; and

2. A standard process project, the fee shall not exceed the actual direct costs to process the application, including permits and inspection.

C. The processing of any application submitted under subsection A or for any zoning approval required for a standard process project shall be subject to the following:

1. Within 10 business days after receiving an incomplete application, the locality shall notify the applicant that the application is incomplete. The notice shall specify any additional information required to complete the application. The notice shall be sent by electronic mail to the applicant's email address provided in the application. If the locality fails to provide such notice within such 10-day period, the application shall be deemed complete.

2. Except as provided in subdivision 3, a locality shall approve or disapprove a complete application:

a. For a new structure within the lesser of 150 days of receipt of the completed application or the period required by federal law for such approval or disapproval; or

b. For the co-location of any wireless facility that is not a small cell facility within the lesser of 90 days of receipt of the completed application or the period required by federal law for such approval or disapproval, unless the application constitutes an eligible facilities request as defined in 47 U.S.C. § 1455(a).

3. Any period specified in subdivision 2 for a locality to approve or disapprove an application may be extended by mutual agreement between the applicant and the locality.

D. A complete application for a project shall be deemed approved if the locality fails to approve or disapprove the application within the applicable period specified in subdivision C 2 or any agreed extension thereof pursuant to subdivision C 3.

E. If a locality disapproves an application submitted under subsection A or for any zoning approval required for a standard process project:

1. The locality shall provide the applicant with a written statement of the reasons for such disapproval; and

2. If the locality is aware of any modifications to the project as described in the application that if made would permit the locality to approve the proposed project, the locality shall identify them in the written statement provided under subdivision 1. The locality's subsequent disapproval of an application for a project that incorporates the modifications identified in such a statement may be used by the applicant as evidence that the locality's subsequent disapproval was arbitrary or capricious in any appeal of the locality's action.

F. A locality's action on disapproval of an application submitted under subsection A or for any zoning approval required for a standard process project shall:

1. Not unreasonably discriminate between the applicant and other wireless services providers, wireless infrastructure providers, providers of telecommunications services, and other providers of functionally equivalent services; and

2. Be supported by substantial record evidence contained in a written record publicly released within 30 days following the disapproval.

G. An applicant adversely affected by the disapproval of an application submitted under subsection A or for any zoning approval required for a standard process project may file an appeal pursuant to subsection F of § 15.2-2285, or to § 15.2-2314 if the requested zoning approval involves a variance, within 30 days following delivery to the applicant or notice to the applicant of the record described in subdivision F 2.

2018, cc. 835, 844.

§ 15.2-2316.4:2. Application reviews.

A. In its receiving, consideration, and processing of a complete application submitted under subsection A of § 15.2-2316.4:1 or for any zoning approval required for a standard process project, a locality shall not:

1. Disapprove an application on the basis of:

a. The applicant's business decision with respect to its designed service, customer demand for service, or quality of its service to or from a particular site;

b. The applicant's specific need for the project, including the applicant's desire to provide additional wireless coverage or capacity; or

c. The wireless facility technology selected by the applicant for use at the project;

2. Require an applicant to provide proprietary, confidential, or other business information to justify the need for the project, including propagation maps and telecommunications traffic studies, or information reviewed by a federal agency as part of the approval process for the same structure and wireless facility, provided that a locality may require an applicant to provide a copy of any approval granted by a federal agency, including conditions imposed by that agency;

3. Require the removal of existing wireless support structures or wireless facilities, wherever located, as a condition for approval of an application. A locality may adopt reasonable rules with respect to the removal of abandoned wireless support structures or wireless facilities;

4. Impose surety requirements, including bonds, escrow deposits, letters of credit, or any other types of financial surety, to ensure that abandoned or unused wireless facilities can be removed, unless the locality imposes similar requirements on other permits for other types of similar commercial development. Any such instrument shall not exceed a reasonable estimate of the direct cost of the removal of the wireless facilities;

5. Discriminate or create a preference on the basis of the ownership, including ownership by the locality, of any property, structure, base station, or wireless support structure, when promulgating rules or procedures for siting wireless facilities or for evaluating applications;

6. Impose any unreasonable requirements or obligations regarding the presentation or appearance of a project, including unreasonable requirements relating to (i) the kinds of materials used or (ii) the arranging, screening, or landscaping of wireless facilities or wireless structures;

7. Impose any requirement that an applicant purchase, subscribe to, use, or employ facilities, networks, or services owned, provided, or operated by a locality, in whole or in part, or by any entity in which a locality has a competitive, economic, financial, governance, or other interest;

8. Condition or require the approval of an application solely on the basis of the applicant's agreement to allow any wireless facilities provided or operated, in whole or in part, by a locality or by any other entity, to be placed at or co-located with the applicant's project;

9. Impose a setback or fall zone requirement for a project that is larger than a setback or fall zone area that is imposed on other types of similar structures of a similar size, including utility poles;

10. Limit the duration of the approval of an application, except a locality may require that construction of the approved project shall commence within two years of final approval and be diligently pursued to completion; or

11. Require an applicant to perform services unrelated to the project described in the application, including restoration work on any surface not disturbed by the applicant's project.

B. Nothing in this article shall prohibit a locality from disapproving an application submitted under subsection A of § 15.2-2316.4:1 or for any zoning approval required for a standard process project:

1. On the basis of the fact that the proposed height of any wireless support structure, wireless facility, or wireless support structure with attached wireless facilities exceeds 50 feet above ground level, provided that the locality follows a local ordinance or regulation that does not unreasonably discriminate between the applicant and other wireless services providers, wireless infrastructure providers, providers of telecommunications services, and other providers of functionally equivalent services; or

2. That proposes to locate a new structure, or to co-locate a wireless facility, in an area where all cable and public utility facilities are required to be placed underground by a date certain or encouraged to be undergrounded as part of a transportation improvement project or rezoning proceeding as set forth in objectives contained in a comprehensive plan, if:

a. The undergrounding requirement or comprehensive plan objective existed at least three months prior to the submission of the application;

b. The locality allows the co-location of wireless facilities on existing utility poles, government-owned structures with the government's consent, existing wireless support structures, or a building within that area;

c. The locality allows the replacement of existing utility poles and wireless support structures with poles or support structures of the same size or smaller within that area; and

d. The disapproval of the application does not unreasonably discriminate between the applicant and other wireless services providers, wireless infrastructure providers, providers of telecommunications services, and other providers of functionally equivalent services.

C. Nothing in this article shall prohibit an applicant from voluntarily submitting, and the locality from accepting, any conditions that otherwise address potential visual or aesthetic effects resulting from the placement of a new structure or facility.

D. Nothing in this article shall prohibit a locality from disapproving an application submitted under a standard process project on the basis of the availability of existing wireless support structures within a reasonable distance that could be used for co-location at reasonable terms and conditions without imposing technical limitations on the applicant.

2018, cc. 835, 844.

§ 15.2-2316.4:3. Additional provisions.

A. A locality shall not require zoning approval for (i) routine maintenance or (ii) the replacement of wireless facilities or wireless support structures within a six-foot perimeter with wireless facilities or wireless support structures that are substantially similar or the same size or smaller. However, a locality may require a permit to work within the right-of-way for the activities described in clause (i) or (ii), if applicable.

B. Nothing in this article shall prohibit a locality from limiting the number of new structures or the number of wireless facilities that can be installed in a specific location.

2018, cc. 835, 844.

§ 15.2-2316.5. Moratorium prohibited.

A locality shall not adopt a moratorium on considering zoning applications submitted by wireless services providers or wireless infrastructure providers.

2017, c. 835.

The chapters of the acts of assembly referenced in the historical citation at the end of these sections may not constitute a comprehensive list of such chapters and may exclude chapters whose provisions have expired.

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