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Surf City, NJ Tightens Wireless Communications Regulations

The Surf City Borough Council recently approved amending a zoning ordinance to require all wireless communication companies to appear before the Land Use Board prior to any improvements to its wireless infrastructure.

“They (wireless companies) can’t just come in and start putting things on poles,” Mayor Francis Hodgson said, noting the amended ordinance strengthens the borough’s current rules and regulations.

Intended to apply to all wireless companies, the ordinance covers an area specific to a Verizon Wireless application the council has been considering for nearly a year. Verizon Wireless wants to place network nodes, or radio boxes, in town as a means to improve connectivity for its mobile users. A point of contention between borough officials and the wireless giant is the placement of the nodes. Verizon Wireless wanted them in the residential as well as the commercial zones. Borough officials want the network nodes to be placed on poles in the business district only.

The nodes, about 2 feet in height, are small cell, low-frequency radio signals that work like a Wi-Fi hotspot, Larry Morgan, project manager for Tilson Technology, has told the council. The antennas are typically mounted on street lights or utility poles to bring wireless signals into areas that need better coverage or more capacity for customers, he said.

More people are using more wireless devices to do more things in more places, Morgan said. The demand for wireless data services has nearly doubled over the last year and is expected to grow 650 percent between 2013 and 2018, according to a July 2017 statement Verizon Wireless released regarding the Surf City proposal.

In the fall, the council unanimously withheld support of the project, citing Verizon’s failure to address concerns officials have with nearly two dozen faulty poles in town. The wireless company received a list of pole locations and had crews surveying the location, according to David Weissmann, public relations manager for Verizon’s Northeast market. He had anticipated the work would be completed before the end of 2017.

“We have a problem with poles and wires,” Hodgson said last week. “They want us to consider nodes (in residential areas), but what happens when someone (a resident or new buyer) decides they want the wires underground?”

Under the ordinance, wireless communication facilities are a permitted use in the business zone only. No wireless communication facility is authorized for the residential zoning district or within 50 feet of a lot in a residential use or residential district boundary, according to the measure. The amended ordinance establishes zoning regulations for the wireless facilities and equipment inside as well as outside of borough rights of way. Only collocation and non-substantial changes to existing wireless support structure will be granted in rights of way, according to the measure.

“All wireless communications facilities shall be subject to these regulations, the applicable building regulations, and the Borough Code, except as otherwise provided or grandfathered herein,” the ordinance reads. “Pre-existing towers or antennas shall not be required to meet the requirements of this chapter, other than the requirements regarding building codes and safety standards. This exception shall not apply to any expansion or intensification of a pre-existing tower or antenna.”

Communication towers and antennas owned, operated, leased or used by the borough are exempt from the measure.

Non-Collocation and/or Substantial Changes. The ordinance requires all wireless communication facilities, except as otherwise provided, to be subject to site plan approval. Any and all applicable variances for new construction, or substantial changes to an existing facility must be obtained from the land use board.

“In granting site plan approval or a variance, the Land Use Board may impose additional conditions consistent with federal and state law to the extent the Land Use Board concludes are necessary to minimize any adverse effect of the proposed wireless communications facility on adjoining properties,” the ordinance reads.

Under the measure, any engineering information submitted, whether civil, mechanical or electrical, must be certified by a New Jersey-licensed professional engineer. The ordinance also requires, where technically possible, towers to be designed to accommodate “at least 4 arrays of separate wireless communications providers.”

Among other items to be submitted before an application is considered certified, the applicant must provide a landscape plan showing specific landscaping materials and precise locations of proposed landscaping improvements; an environmental impact study; a written report of the suitability or non-suitability of the existing wireless communications facilities or other structures for services to be provided through the use of the proposed wireless communications facility; a written report of the feasible locations of future wireless communications facilities; a visual study identifying line of sight analysis; and a report from a qualified expert certifying the wireless communications facility complies with the latest structural and wind loading requirements.

Tower-Based Applications. The land use board will render a decision on a tower-based application within 150 days of the receipt of a certified application. If the board deems the application is incomplete, it will notify the board within 30 days. The 150-day timeframe wouldn’t begin until a completed application is before the board, according to the ordinance.

If the board fails to act within the timeframe, the applicant may notify the board in writing that the review period has expired. Once the notice is in hand, the application will be deemed granted.

An applicant for a tower-based wireless communications facility must demonstrate a significant gap in wireless coverage exists with regard to all wireless operators in the applicable area and that the type of facility being proposed is the least intrusive means by which to fill that gap. The existence or non-existence of a gap in coverage will be considered by the land use board.

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