Johnson City considers aesthetic guidelines for 5G tech

David Floyd • Updated Jun 17, 2019 at 10:07 PM

Phone companies are swiftly rolling out 5G technology in cities across the country.

Johnson City hopes to get ahead of the game by coming up with aesthetic standards for how companies the integrate the technology into existing and new infrastructure.

“These deployments are coming,” said Johnson City Development Services Director Preston Mitchell. “So whether or not we’re ready, they’re coming.”

Mitchell said the equipment is typically placed on telephone poles, electric poles or streetlights.

“We are emphasizing concealment, really, of their equipment.” said Preston Mitchell, Johnson City’s development services director. “We support the innovation and technology. That’s important for us as a society. ... We recognize the growth of this industry, of the technology and all that comes with it, but how do we allow that to blend in with the community?”

During Monday’s agenda review meeting, Mitchell walked members of the Johnson City Commission through a proposed ordinance that establishes guidelines for how companies deploy the technology in the community.

Mitchell said Tennessee passed a law in 2018 that already establishes review timelines, fee schedules and minimum technical standards for 5G deployment in the state. The aesthetics, however, are up to cities.

Mitchell said some of the biggest complaints among citizens comes from the aesthetic appearance of the technology, which can involve the placement of equipment like antennas and units called “small cells,” wireless transmitters and receivers.

Mitchell said the city has looked at its historic zoning guidelines, zoning code and other standards to develop a plan that allows for the modification or co-location of equipment on existing infrastructure and the construction of new infrastructure in a way that compliments the appearance of a specific area.

“Our focus is on how does the entirety, that being everything from the antenna to the pole itself to the supporting equipment, how does that blend and how is that compatible with the different areas of our community.”

The proposed ordinance would divide the regulations into five categories: general commercial, general residential, historic commercial, historic residential, and parks and schools.

While 4G technology helped close gaps in cell phone coverage, Mitchell said 5G will allow for more data capacity.

“I think we need to embrace these technologies and what they’re going to be bringing us,” Mitchell said. “But how do you blend it in with the traditions and the norms and the expectations of the community?”

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