The evolution of cell phones and computers demonstrates that technology is getting smaller and smaller and the need for connectivity is constantly rising. Consumers expect to be connected to the internet in the car, on the sidewalk, and in buildings. Realizing this need, the wireless industry and real estate owners are deploying Small Cell and Distributed Antenna Systems (“DAS”) in and around locations where traditional wireless signals may not meet high demands. For instance, stadiums, office buildings, mass transportation and new millennial transit oriented developments experience a high volume of consumers with a high demand for wireless services. As a result, real estate owners, project developers, and wireless companies are seeking to deploy Small Cell and DAS systems in and around such facilities. As this new technology evolves, the question becomes, how will the local permitting process adapt to new technology? What happens if the local permitting process does not adapt to emerging technologies? Should a developer or wireless company introduce these systems into their projects at the initial development stages?
Land Use and Technology
Municipalities react differently to new technologies. While some embrace technology and promote its use, other municipalities struggle with permitting new technologies and developing processes for deployment. The deployment of new Small Cell and DAS systems may bring additional confusion not yet experienced. Municipalities might be asking, how do we permit these technologies? How do we define these technologies? Do we need site plan review? Do we need to hire a consultant? Do we need to revise our local code? Wireless companies and real estate developers must study the local permitting process and engage with municipalities to better understand how these technologies will be permitted.
Working with municipalities to enact an efficient permitting process (i.e. building permit) for these small technologies is vital. However, until such local legislation is set in place, developers will likely need to seek certain determinations/interpretations of the existing local regulations to obtain needed approvals. A developer or wireless deployment company should not be subjected to a large scale zoning review solely for in-building wireless technologies. Nevertheless, without approaching the municipality with a legal framework for an efficient Small Cell and DAS permitting process, the municipality may “punt” these new technologies to a more cumbersome zoning process, i.e. processes used for macro wireless facilities.
In addition to seeking an efficient permitting process for these new technologies through various interpretations of the existing local code, companies seeking to deploy these new technologies should introduce the technology early in the development process. In other words, during the permitting process for office buildings, hotels, hospitals, etc., wireless companies and developers should work together to integrate Small Cell and DAS systems into the initial development plans. Thus, until the time comes where permitting processes for Small Cell and DAS systems are legislated, acting early in development stages may allow a municipality to roll these new technologies into the traditional land use process without additional layers of approval.
While new technologies can cause confusion in the local permitting process, it can also lead to great successes. Wireless deployment companies and real estate developers will need to work closely with local governments to create a more efficient Small Cell and DAS permitting process and help municipalities better understand this new technology and how it is going to positively impact its residents.