Small Cells Wireless Facilities
What are Small Cells?
To address the growing demand for wireless services across the United States, telecommunication providers plan to increase the capacity of their networks by deploying small cell antennas, primarily within the public right-of-way, to reduce the data traffic load on roof-mounted equipment and larger cell towers. Small cell facilities are low-powered antennas that provide wireless service coverage to a limited geographic area (often with ranges of a few hundred feet), and are used to supplement and expand the coverage provided by the traditional, larger-scale network.
The immediate desire of the wireless carriers is to mount these facilities on existing structures within the public right-of-way; such structures may include utility poles, streetlight poles, and traffic signal poles.
Watch this Small Cells Fundamentals video to learn more about small cells.
The City of Alexandria, like other communities in Virginia and across the country, requires certain permits before a wireless company or any other person can install equipment in or on the City’s streets and sidewalks. These permits are designed to address traffic safety, the proper installation of electric equipment, and the appearance of the City. In 2017 and 2018, the Virginia General Assembly enacted legislation intended to streamline the process for issuing zoning permits. In 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) adopted similar rules addressing a broader range of permits; the FCC’s rules went into effect in January 2019.
In the Fall of 2017, City Council approved an amendment to the zoning ordinance to ensure compliance with the first set of statutes adopted by the General Assembly. The Department of Planning & Zoning has developed an application form and a process for reviewing requests to install small cell facilities, to conform to the new state and federal requirements. The City is now in the process of considering further amendments to the zoning ordinance and other internal procedures to fully reflect the 2018 changes in state and federal law. Wireless carriers must also obtain permission from Dominion Energy to deploy infrastructure on utility poles and other facilities owned by Dominion, as well as complying with Dominion’s safety and operational guidelines.
The City remains committed to protecting the needs and interests of Alexandria residents in obtaining access to advanced wireless service, while also preserving the visual character of the City and the safety of the public. The City has prepared Interim Wireless Facility Aesthetic Guidelines that provide general guidance for small cell facilities while we continue to work with wireless telecommunication providers and the community on aesthetic designs for streetlight poles.
Policies and Documents
Past Meetings and Materials
- Tuesday, June 18, 2019 - Commission on Information Technology
- June 11, 2019 - Old Town Civic Association
- Wednesday, May 15, 2019 - BAR Public Hearing
- Thursday, May 2, 2019 - Design Guidelines Committee
- Thursday, April 25, 2019 - Public Information Meeting
- March 27, 2019 - Federation of Civic Associations
- February 26, 2019 - City Council Legislative Meeting
- October 17, 2017 - City Council Public Hearing
- October 3, 2017 - Planning Commission Public Hearing
Contact Tony LaColla, Division Chief, Land Use Services, Department of Planning and Zoning, 703.746.4666.