Wireless and Small Cell Regulations and Installation

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As wireless technology continues to advance, carriers continue to roll out new and replacement cellular antennas on Mercer Island. Federal regulation of these facilities also continues to evolve. Since 2016, the city has seen two major deployments of small wireless facilities. In addition, the city adopted interim regulations related to "small cell" facilities and is in the process of adopting a permanent update to wireless regulations.



As wireless technology continues to advance, carriers continue to roll out new and replacement cellular antennas on Mercer Island. Federal regulation of these facilities also continues to evolve. Since 2016, the city has seen two major deployments of small wireless facilities. In addition, the city adopted interim regulations related to "small cell" facilities and is in the process of adopting a permanent update to wireless regulations.



  • Applications Received for 5G Installation

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    Crown Castle, working on behalf of Verizon, has submitted 23 applications for new 5G equipment on utility poles in the City right-of-way. 20 of the applications were submitted on June 9, 2021 and involve installing new antennas and associated equipment on existing poles that already house small wireless facilities. 3 of the applications were submitted on June 16, 2021 and involve installing wireless equipment on new, replacement poles in the City right-of-way. All of these applications are currently under review by the City. We will update this page as more information is available.

  • Wireless Code Amendment Process Resumes

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    The City resumed work on an amendment to the wireless and small cell regulations in spring 2021. The Planning Commission held a work session on this topic at its March meeting and will hold a public hearing on April 21. It is anticipated that the commission will make a recommendation to City Council on a code amendment at either the April 21 or the May 19 Planning Commission meetings.

  • COVID-19: Temporary Suspension of Code Amendment

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    Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City has temporarily suspended work on the code amendment. Installation of previously approved small cell facilities is exempt from the Governor's Stay at Home order and is expected to proceed. For more information and updates, please visit the COVID-19 website.

  • Installation Work

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    Since the last update, the City has approved Right-of-Way permits for Puget Sound Energy (PSE) to replace 37 utility poles to accommodate the small cell antenna installations for the Verizon deployment. Four additional poles will be replaced by Crown Castle. The installation of fiber optic cables to serve the small cell antennas began last fall and is expected to be completed around the end of March. By early April, PSE crews will begin utility pole replacements and Crown Castle crews will begin installation of 45 small cell antennas shortly after. Crown Castle has informed the City that their small cell antenna manufacturer has changed and will result in a slightly smaller antenna than originally proposed.


  • Small Cell Wireless Code Update

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    The City of Mercer Island is in the process of updating its zoning standards regarding small cell facilities in order to be consistent with recently-adopted Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules. These FCC rules were put in place to support the expansion of 5G networks, which will provide additional capacity to wireless networks. Small cell facilities are a type of wireless infrastructure typically made up of radios and antennas that transmit cellular phone and data signals. They are commonly attached to utility or light poles and are distinct from the large "macro cell" facilities like cell towers.

    The City's Planning Commission will review the new FCC rules and public input and use this information to develop new, permanent regulations to replace the City's existing interim code. Upcoming Planning Commission meeting dates and links to meeting materials can be found under "Small Cell Code Update Process" on the right-hand side of this page.

  • Update on Remaining Permits and Upcoming Work

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    Since the last update in August, the City has approved two more permits for small cell antennas related to the Verizon deployment (WCF19-049 and WCF19-042), bringing the total number of approved permits to 44. There is one permit that is still being processed (WCF19-018), for a small cell on a new pole near the Mercerwood Shore Club (the City is currently awaiting updated materials from the permit applicant). The City is also still anticipating a new application for the relocated site near Ellis Pond, but the timeline for this application is not known.

    Work has begun on the installation of fiber optic cable that will serve the small cell antennas when they are installed. The fiber optic cable is being installed on utility poles, and in a few cases in underground conduits. The city does not yet know when the small cell antenna installation will begin; Puget Sound Energy (or their contractor) must first apply for and obtain Right-of-Way permits for the anticipated replacement of the utility poles that will house the small cell antennas.


  • Small Cell Permits to be Issued Soon

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    **UPDATE 8/16/2019** Three of the six applications that were still under review have now been completed. A total of 42 permits will be issued on Monday August 19.

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    In May 2019, applications for the installation of 46 small cell antennas where submitted to the City of Mercer Island on behalf of Verizon. The City has now completed its review of 40 of the 46 small cell antennas. Of the 46 applications submitted in May, one application has been withdrawn (for the installation near Ellis Pond). The City is anticipating the applicant will submit a new application for the relocated antenna in this neighborhood in the coming weeks. An additional six applications are still under review as the City is waiting on requested information from the applicant.

    The remaining 39 applications have been determined to comply with the City’s recently adopted interim small cell rules (MICC 19.06.070 and 19.06.075), and will be approved. As a reminder, the City’s ability to regulate small cell antennas is limited by new rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in January, 2019. The FCC rules curtail the City’s authority to prevent the installation of small cell antennas. The City anticipates issuing the 39 permit approvals on Monday, August 19th. A 14-day appeal period follows the permit approval, which will conclude on September 3rd, after the Labor Day holiday. The City will provide notification of approval to the parties of record that submitted public comments as part of the review process.

  • Ellis Pond Small Cell Application Withdrawn

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    Last week, after reviewing City and neighborhood feedback, Crown Castle notified the City of Mercer Island that they were withdrawing the application for WCF19-020, the proposed small cell on a new pole adjacent to Ellis Pond. Earlier that week, Crown Castle met with representatives from the city and the Ellis Pond neighborhood to walk the area and identify alternative options that would have less impacts in the neighborhood and would still meet the technical requirements of Crown Castle and Verizon. An existing pole, to the south of the WCF19-020 location at the intersection of SE 47th St & 91st Ave SE, was been identified. Crown Castle engineers have evaluated the new location and found that it does meet their technical specifications. They have notified the City that they will be submitting a new application to replace the existing pole and install small cell equipment at this location.

  • Final 3 staff review letters now available

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    Staff review letters for permits WCF19-018, WCF19-020 and WCF19-051 are now available for review.

    The staff review letter covering the other 43 proposed small cell sites was previously released, and this post includes more information on the review process and next steps.

  • More on the FCC's New Rule

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    Last fall the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a new rule that curtails the City’s authority to review small cells in a number of ways – notably the City cannot prevent the installation of small cells, or “densifying” the wireless coverage (page 16 of the PDF, item 36 and subsequent). This new rule also limits the City’s ability to require a change in the location of the small cell.

    The FCC’s new rule has been appealed by a number of cities (including Bellevue, Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles). To date, the appeal has not moved very far through the judicial process. Because the FCC’s new rule is “in force” until the appeal is resolved, the City has adopted interim standards (https://mercerisland.municipal.codes/MICC/19.06.070) that are intended to focus on minimizing the aesthetic impact to the extent feasible.

    Longer term, the City is anticipating adoption of permanent standards that will also be intended to minimize the aesthetic impact of small cells. As a part of this future code amendment process things like enhanced limits on noise, requiring the undergrounding of power, creating incentives for co-location, and requiring hollow poles with internal equipment and antenna mounts will be discussed more fully by the Planning Commission and City Council.

    Despite the City’s limited authority to affect the small cell locations, city staff are conveying the comments we have received to the permit applicant, Crown Castle, and staff will continue to advocate on behalf of the community.


Page last updated: 06 August 2021, 13:02