Pranas Rimeikis

Pranas Rimeikis

Due to a state senate bill recently signed into law, the future of 5G broadband technology could cause some visual headaches for the town of Culpeper, according to Councilman Pranas Rimeikis.

He recently brought Senate Bill 1282 to the attention of the town council public works committee which in turn asked staff to draft a letter in opposition to it and send it to local state legislators and the Virginia Municipal League. The bill, sponsored by State Senator Ryan McDougle, R-Mechanicsville, easily passed both the house and senate and was signed into law effective July 1.

The measure allows wireless communication companies to install utility poles – for the purpose of attaching small antennas – in public right-of-way while preventing localities from enacting special exceptions or requiring a special use permit for the “small cell facilities.”

“I want to prevent the town from looking like a pole graveyard,” said Rimeikis. “It’s about aesthetics.”

The town of Culpeper has since received three applications from companies to erect 65-feet-tall poles in its right-of-way for establishing 5G wireless communications infrastructure in the areas near Southgate Shopping Center, Walgreen’s and Arbee’s, according to Culpeper Town Planning Director Charles Rapp.

“We can’t say no,” he said, referencing the new law which unanimously passed the House of Delegates.

Rimeikis contended that legislators did not realize the impact on localities of the new legislation.

“There’s a consensus (among localities) that this is bad,” he said.

Rimeikis serves on a policy committee of the Virginia Municipal League at which the issue has been discussed.

“If I had my way, I would repeal the entire thing,” he said. “It’s about taking away the locality’s ability to control their own destiny with zoning.”

According to the Commission on Local Government, localities that opposed the bill noted it would have a negative fiscal impact because it allows multiple cell facilities on a single application for a flat fee and limits local authority to collect fees for such infrastructure on public property. Opposing localities have said considering the applications could result in unreimbursed staff time.

“Additionally, localities could not force wireless companies to pay ongoing fees for attachments to existing structures … the way other utilities do,” according to a Commission on Local Government analysis of the legislation for the city of Danville. “We currently receive over $350,000 in revenue from cable companies for pole attachments – why would wireless companies not be treated the same?”

According to Danville officials, the larger impact of the legislation, like Rimeikis said, is its limits on local authority and inability to regulate access to public property.

The city of Lynchburg felt similarly about the measure saying, “The bill will usurp local governments’ control over their rights of way and will allow wireless providers to install their facilities pretty much wherever they want to without regard to local zoning ordinance or the potential problems that may be caused,” according to the Commission on Local Government.

Culpeper Town Councilman Jon Russell said if the new law resulted in improved internet connectivity around town then he was all for it. Rimeikis snapped back that he didn’t care what it did, that it was about the bigger picture.

The committee agreed to send the letters of opposition about the bill.

Wireless Week reported that the new law would give localities 60 days to approve or deny applications and would cap fees at $100 for up to five “small cell” facilities and $50 for each facility thereafter. Fees for carrier use of municipal rights-of-way are prohibited, except for zoning, subdivision, site plan, and comprehensive plan fees related to the general application, according to Wireless Week.

Additionally, the bill instructs municipalities that “approval for a permit shall not be unreasonably conditioned, withheld, or delayed.”

Gov. Terry McAuliffe supported the measure saying the uniform procedure for siting approval would result in increased investment in Virginia.

“I am proud to sign this new law placing Virginia at the forefront of all the economic benefits that will flow from even faster 5G Internet connections,” said McAuliffe at the time. “I have made it a top priority to spur investment and job opportunities across the Commonwealth and this law will help deliver that goal whether through improved education opportunities, better healthcare delivery, or autonomous transportation systems.”

The fact that the matter, impacting town and cities, started at the state legislature is almost criminal, Rimeikis said at the recent town committee meeting.

“They could put one at town hall,” he said incredulously of the 5G apparatus.

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Allison Brophy Champion can be reached at abrophy@starexponent.com or (540) 825-4315.

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