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Silverthorne considers design standards for small cell towers

Breckenridge produced this rendering showing what a 5G small-cell antenna could look like in the downtown area. Silverthorne is considering design standards for the towers.
Photo from town of Breckenridge
Breckenridge produced this rendering showing what a 5G small-cell antenna could look like in the downtown area. Silverthorne is considering design standards for the towers.
Photo from town of Breckenridge

Silverthorne is considering an ordinance that would create design standards for future small-cell towers in town, which are used to provide cellular coverage and increased network capacity.

Public Works Director Tom Daugherty said that while the town has not yet been approached by a telecommunications provider regarding small-cell installations, it would be to the town’s advantage to have standards published prior to a proposal.

Daugherty said that as Silverthorne has not adopted any design standards to address small-cell installations in the town’s right of ways, staff suggested an ordinance that gives general parameters, such as requiring the installer to match aesthetics in the area and putting height restrictions on the facilities.



In his memo to the Town Council, Daugherty explained that a 2018 Federal Communications Commission ruling removed barriers for the deployment of 5G infrastructure, including establishing a 60-to-90 day timeline for towns to approve an application for a small-cell facility. However, the ruling also allows towns to require the facilities to meet certain aesthetic requirements as long as they are clear and published in advance.

“I want to make sure that we put something on the books that allows us to have a process for taking these applications for the antennas and putting some sort of restrictions or criteria that they have to meet in order to put things up,” Daugherty said.



While the town could review individual proposals as they come through, Daugherty said the town also has the option to do a master license agreement with a tower company that would build the infrastructure and work with telecommunications companies to add their antennas.

“Right now, I’m not seeing anybody lining up to do it in our neighborhood, but I feel like it’s going to come and I’m not exactly sure how intense it will be,” Daugherty said.

Council member Michael Spry said certain issues like network densification and adding capacity to a 5G network need to be vetted out in mountain communities prior to the town putting restrictions on the process.

“There’s a ton of information on both sides … for where small cell ordinances need to go and where they shouldn’t go at all,” Spry said. “To throw this out at council now, to have a discussion to then have a reading on an ordinance at the next meeting seems incredibly premature.”

Spry said that he agrees that there should be some “guardrails” put up around where development can go, but he thinks it will be awhile before Silverthorne is considered for 5G technology and that the town doesn’t need to act on the issue immediately. Assistant Town Manager Mark Leidal said staff could bring more information and research on what other towns are doing to address 5G infrastructure before a first reading on an ordinance. Daugherty said he could consult with an expert to put together a master license agreement, but wants to act quickly as he feels the town is “late to the game.”

“I just don’t want to get caught with applications coming in the door and not having anything on the books, because then you do not have any real authority to have any say-so over what they put in,” Daugherty said.

Silverthorne’s legal representative Karl Hanlon said rather than a master license agreement, other smaller towns are going down a “reasonable regulation” route where the town simply lays out sensible parameters. He said that a reasonable regulation option, a master lease option, and a hybrid option could be presented to council at the next meeting, and then council can decide whether they want to move forward.


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