Posted by: Patricia Salkin | January 22, 2008

New Cell Tower Law Takes Effect in North Carolina

Although Congress passed, and the President signed, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 for the purpose of ensuring a national telecommunications infrastructure, some states believe that further guidance for municipalities is needed and/or that statewide uniformity is desired.  While the federal Act does not preempt local zoning control, it does set certain parameters on how local governments may review applications from wireless providers for towers and antennae.  Due to a number of issues across the State, North Carolina has enacted a cell tower law, consistent with the federal law, but designed to address more specific issues and concerns that have arisen in the State. 

Ch. SL 2007-526 of the Laws of North Carolina took effect on December 1, 2007, providing a statewide statutory scheme for the siting of cell towers. The law was enacted for the purpose of establishing consistent, statewide standards that both preserves local zoning authority but curbs practices that have apparently prevented wireless coverage expansion in the State. Codified in the N.C.G.S. Sections 160A-400.50 to -400.53 (for cities) and N.C.G.S. Sections 153A-349.50 to -349.53 (for counties), the new law makes clear that cities and counties may enact ordinances regulating the siting of cell tower, and while not preempting local control, the new law clearly sets parameters local governments must now follow.   

Highlights of the new law include: *Local governments are required to review co-location applications and respond to   deficiencies within 45 days of receipt of the application, and to render a final  determination on complete applications within 45 days. *Consultant fees must now be set in advance and incorporated into the permit application fee, and such fees must be reasonable and not exceed what is usual and customary for       such services.           

*Review of applications may not include an evaluation of the applicant’s business decision about its design services, customer demand for its services or quality of its service in a particular area – local governments may only address public safety, land development or zoning issues.           

*A streamlined process for co-locations meaning that so long as applications for co-location are in accordance with site plan and building permit requirements, they are not otherwise subject to zoning or public hearings if they meet five statutory criteria (the collocation does not increase the overall height or width of the tower; the ground space for the fenced compound does not increase; the tower itself is in compliance with the requirements and conditions originally placed on the structure; the antennas comply with all safety requirements; and the collocation does not exceed the structural loading limits of the tower.) 

The new law, along with legislative history is available at: http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/BillLookUp/BillLookUp.pl?Session=2007&BillID=s831 

For an informative article from the North Carolina State Bar Association describing in more detail the new law, see: http://zoninglanduse.ncbar.org/Newsletters+/Newsletters/Downloads_GetFile.aspx?id=6756


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