• Cyburbia is a friendly big tent, where we share our experiences and thoughts about urban planning practice, the built environment, planning adjacent topics, and anything else that comes to mind. No ads, no spam, and it's free. It's easy to join!

Wireless communication facility design

The City of Sedona is looking to amend their "cell tower" ordinance. As a resort desert community, aesthetics are essential in cell tower design. What types of "stealth" design have other communities used?

Also, what combination of zoning district regulations and height restrictions have produced successful cell tower locations?

Any examples would be most helpful.

Bob Beaugrand

Every market in the U.S. has +-9 wireless providers licensed to operate. Typically, 6 or 7 out of the 9 actually provide service in any one market area. This creates a number of problems when attempting to mandate "stealth" design.

First, the structural capacity of a "stealth" tower is severely limited. That meaning it is only able to accommodate a limited number of the 6 or 7 carriers, thus requiring additional towers to be built in close proximity (more towers). The most I've seen located on any "stealth" design is 3. And in order to do that the facility had to be structurally "beefed up" to where the "stealth" aspects of the design were compromised making it stick out more. Bringing me to my second point.

Most "stealth" designs are so out of scale from what they were originally supposed to represent that they draw more attention to them than a traditional design. I've seen countless clock towers that were built to conceal antennas that are so big and bulky that they look out of place. In addition, they become more of an attraction due to media attention and their sheer bulk and size that people from the community actually point the towers out to visitors to show them their attempt to conceal a "cell tower". This kind of defeats the original purpose of what most communities are trying to accomplish with "stealth" design by drawing attention to these structures.

Other types of "stealth" design that are much smaller in scale like street lights and telephone poles simply don't work. This attempt at concealment in the limited number of applications that it's been used around the country has failed. Specifically, it doesn't allow the system to function efficiently. The small size of the antennas and equipment have limited broadcast range requiring multiple sites within short distances (more non-typical visual clutter, not less). With 6-7 carriers in the market each with their own equipment because they broadcast at different frequencies and use different technologies, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that you'll need a whole lot of light or telephone poles to effectively deploy this technology. Concept sounds good but from a technical and practical standpoint it just doesn't work.

The answer...be proactive and "Plan" (what a concept!) for these facilities by identifying strategic locations within your community that not just one, but multiple providers of wireless service can use. This will reduce proliferation and mitigate any perceived impact.