Daniel Goodrich and Sean Maddox
Md7 Land Use Department
In 2012, Congress passed a federal law to reduce site deployment timeframes for modifications and colocations (often referred to as “Section 6409”). Although the industry was excited about the possibilities under this new law, carriers and municipalities have been unsure how the regulation should operate in practice. Even today, uncertainty persists despite the FCC’s 2015 clarifications in the law, because 6409’s “shot clock” requiring local municipalities to streamline approvals has a lot of bark, but no bite.
The challenge presented by 6409 is that the FCC asks carriers to be comfortable deploying new equipment relying only on a notice letter to the jurisdiction stating the project is “deemed approved.” At Md7, we have found that clients prefer to have a document issued by the municipality confirming that the project is approved, as opposed to a “deemed approved” notice on carrier letterhead.
We have taken a practical approach to this challenge by working with jurisdictions in some of the toughest markets in the U.S. to harmonize outdated and onerous zoning processes with the streamlined timeframe mandated by federal law. The result: collaboration, not contention.
Working with local municipalities provides peace of mind for our clients because we deliver a tangible approval document issued by the municipality in what can often be half the traditional timeframe under the existing siting process.
The following examples highlight Md7’s recent approach and success in significantly reducing client deployment timeframes across modification and new-build colocation projects:
Village on the North Shore of Long Island, New York
Municipality estimated a 60 day turnaround for zoning approval. Md7 obtained zoning approval in 35 days.
Background: Located on the north shore of Long Island, NY, this affluent village maintains a stringent zoning code and approval process for “aesthetically displeasing” telecommunications facilities.
For a relatively simple modification to an existing water tower, the Village initially required an approximate 90 day process, including: (1) a building permit application; (2) a building permit denial; (3) a Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) application; (4) an in-person pre‑submission conference; and (5) ZBA and building permit approval.
Approach and Result: Md7 collaborated with Village counsel to educate municipal officials of the Village’s obligations under the new federal requirements. As a result, Md7 successfully obtained an outright waiver of the ZBA process and an approved building permit simultaneously, which Village counsel advised “had never been done before.”
Historic Waterfront Community in New York
Municipality estimated a 120 day turnaround for zoning approval and building permit approval. Md7 not only obtained zoning approval, but also building permit approval within 67 days.
Background: Bordering New York, Connecticut and the Long Island Sound, this historic waterfront community also traditionally presents quite a challenge to telecommunications modification applications.
For a relatively simple modification to an existing smoke stack, the Village initially imposed 3 separate public meetings/hearings to span over 90 days, not to mention approximately an additional 30 days to obtain the building permit.
Approach and Result: Md7 communicated with the Village Attorney and Planners, ascertained the Village’s position and motivations regarding 6409, and compromised to shave approximately 60 days off the entire zoning and permit application process.
Major Maryland City in the Process of a Complete Overhaul of its Zoning Code
Municipality estimated a 90 day turnaround for zoning and building permit approval. Md7 not only obtained zoning approval, but also building permit approval within 44 days.
Background: While the City offered, at first glance, a streamlined zoning and permitting process (i.e., a “one-stop-shop”), a new carrier’s colocation on a downtown rooftop proved to be more challenging from a zoning perspective than initially anticipated.
Md7 submitted a single application electronically; the application passed every departmental review, only to arrive at the zoning department, which flagged the application for a public hearing. In practice, the City interpreted its Code to subject all new antenna installations to a public hearing.
Approach and Result: Md7 persuaded the City Zoning Administrator to recognize that the colocation qualified for expedited treatment, and the City soon thereafter waived the public hearing, administratively approved the application, and issued the final building permit, saving the client approximately 45 days on its build schedule.
Through a practical approach to 6409 challenges, Md7 continues to build on its reputation as an innovator in wireless real estate portfolio management by expediting traditional site acquisition timeframes while providing our clients and municipal constituents with clarity in the wake of new federal law.