New Albany officials are hoping they can tuck any "small-cell wireless" installations built in the city into relatively unobtrusive areas, according to City Manager Joe Stefanov.

Large cellular towers are used to mount equipment that transmits cellular voice and data, but small-cell devices mounted on smaller towers transmit only cellular data, said Stephen Mayer, New Albany's development-services manager.

Cellular companies seek to add the smaller towers where there are large groups of people, because larger groups of people create more data demand and small-cell wireless installations provide additional data service, Mayer said. They also take up less space than traditional cellular towers, he said.

According to city code, the small towers on which the equipment is mounted cannot exceed 40 feet in height, he said.

The local consideration of small-cell wireless equipment has changed a bit since Ohio Senate Bill 331, which took effect in March 2017, included an amendment giving utility companies full rein to install nodes on such structures as street signs and traffic lights within public rights of way.

When such structures were not present, the bill allowed companies to install a small tower, similar to a telephone pole, for infrastructure.

The SB 331 amendment, which was backed by AT&T, drew legal action from dozens of cities who sued the state, including members of the Central Ohio Mayors and Managers Association. Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Richard A. Frye determined June 2 that the bill violated the "single-subject" rule in the Ohio Constitution.

In response, the Ohio General Assembly enacted House Bill 478 on April 11 as a replacement for SB 331. The legislation, which became effective Aug. 1, allows cities to create design guidelines to address the placement of small-cell equipment and wireless support structures on streets, sidewalks, alleys and other areas included in right-of-way, according to the city's Nov. 30 legislative report to New Albany City Council members.

The design guidelines apply to the structures' appearance, how they are concealed and what materials can be used for screening or landscaping, according to the legislative report.

City Council already had approved design guidelines, and Dec. 4, it updated its right-of-way ordinance.

Stefanov said city leaders want to work with telecommunication companies on the placement of the structures and have had meetings with representatives from AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

"Those, I think, have been very productive," he said.

After New Albany changed the appearance of its rights of way by relocating telephone lines underground, the city wants to ensure telecommunication companies install the small-cell structures in such a way that they do not detract from the aesthetics, Stefanov said.

None of these telecommunication support structures have been erected in New Albany, but one has been placed near the Kroger off Fodor Road in Columbus, he said.

One company is looking at sites at three locations in the New Albany International Business Park, Stefanov said. Companies must obtain right-of-way permits from the city to erect the structures, he said.

According to the city's design guidelines, city officials would prefer the structures be within rights of way on secondary and service roads. Also preferred would be mounting the small-cell equipment on existing support structures to minimize the number of poles within the rights of way.

New poles, according to the guidelines, may be constructed only when applicants can demonstrate using an existing structure isn't feasible or available. Verizon and AT&T have discussed locations they are interested in adding small-cell wireless equipment, Mayer said.

These locations include in front of Village Hall, 99 W. Main St., and along Dublin-Granville Road. Because the New Albany-Plain Local School District uses a significant amount of data, locations near there, as well as Market Square, are popular, he said.

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