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Berea, OH addresses small cell facility state law 'no city is thrilled with'

Berea Law Director Barb Jones and city officials across the state are working quickly to develop new chapters in their codified ordinances that add greater specificity to regulations for small cell facilities.

They intend to enact new city codes ahead of a state measure slated to go into effect July 31.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed into law a bill in May that outlines what municipalities can -- and can't -- do about small cell facility companies and the equipment they erect on public rights-of-way. Small cellular and wireless equipment often is attached to new or existing poles, or it can be contained in a short, freestanding structure.

Berea previously joined with 80 other Ohio cities in a lawsuit claiming infringement of home rule powers. The original state legislation was revised, but Jones said the new law basically negates 20 pages of regulations in Berea's current zoning code.

"If somebody wants to put up a pole, for the most part we're required to let them," Jones explained to City Council at its June 4 regular meeting. "We can negotiate a different location within 100 feet of their desired location. It is legislation that no city is thrilled with. It ties our hands a thousand different ways and limits what permit fees you can require."

There currently are no small cell facilities in Berea.

Jones indicated that the new law will contain special regulations for historical districts, including national register status as opposed to state register status. In addition, timelines will be strict for cities' turnaround on processing small cell facility applications and the subsequent issuance of permits.

"We're not allowed to send them to Planning Commission," Jones said. "(State officials) are treating it as if it's not a zoning issue."

City Council let stand on first reading the city's proposed zoning code ordinance, and Jones anticipates council members will pass it before July 31.

"It's not what we would like in terms of being able to control our own rights-of-way, but there are some technological improvements that all of us will share once (small cell facilities) get into place," she said.

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