Chapter 18.70


18.70.010    Title.

18.70.020    Purpose.

18.70.030    Definitions.

18.70.040    Applicability.

18.70.050    Exemptions.

18.70.060    Authority and administration.

18.70.070    Nonconforming uses and structures.

18.70.080    Site location of wireless facilities.

18.70.090    Design and development standards.

18.70.100    Permitting process and administration.

18.70.110    Abandonment and removal.

18.70.120    Violations – Penalties.

18.70.010 Title.

The ordinance codified in this chapter shall be known as the “Cowlitz County Wireless Communications Facility Code.” [Ord. 13-104, § 1, 10-8-13.]

18.70.020 Purpose.

The purpose of this chapter is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Cowlitz County, ensure that permitting of wireless communications facilities is consistent with the Cowlitz County Building Code, Comprehensive Plan, and associated development regulations, and:

A. To accommodate an increased need for towers/antennas to serve the wireless communication needs of county residents;

B. To promote and encourage collocation of new and existing wireless communication antennas to minimize the total number of support structures and towers throughout the county;

C. To minimize adverse impacts to adjacent properties through careful design, siting, landscape screening and camouflaging techniques;

D. To protect residential areas and land uses from adverse impacts of towers. [Ord. 13-104, § 1, 10-8-13.]

18.70.030 Definitions.

For the purposes of this chapter the following terms are defined:

“Amateur radio/ham radio” means radio facilities operated for noncommercial purposes by individuals licensed with the FCC with an interest in construction and operation of radio equipment, usually as a hobby or vocation.

“Antenna array” means one or more rods, panels, discs, or similar devices used as antennas for the transmission or reception of radio frequency signals. The antennas may include omni-directional, directional or parabolic types of antennas. The antenna array does not include the support structure or support tower.

“Attached wireless communications facility” means an antenna array that is attached to an existing support structure, together with any accompanying pole or attachment device which attaches the antenna array to the support structure, auxiliary support equipment, and transmission cables.

“Auxiliary support equipment” means all equipment necessary and/or desirable to process wireless communication signals and data, including but not limited to electronic processing devices, air conditioning, emergency generators, and cabling interface devices. For the purposes of this chapter, auxiliary equipment shall also include the shelter, cabinets, and other structural facilities used to house and shelter necessary equipment. Auxiliary equipment does not include support towers or structures.

“Camouflage” means the use of both existing and future technology through which a wireless communications facility is designed and constructed to resemble an object that is not a wireless communications facility and which is typically present in the surrounding environment.

“Citizens band radio (CB radio)” means two-way radio facilities operated for short range personal and business communications, without necessity of a federal license, pursuant to Congressional Federal Register Part 95.

“Collocation” means use of a common wireless communications support structure or tower by two or more wireless license holders for two or more antenna arrays.

“Commercial districts” means areas designated by the Cowlitz County Land Use Ordinance or Cowlitz County Comprehensive Plan as a commercial district.

“Concealing techniques” means the use of colors and types of paint, placement of a wireless communications facility near an appropriate backdrop, or other techniques that will allow the wireless communications facility to blend with the surrounding setting.

“Day” means days that the office of the Director is open for business, unless otherwise specified.

“Director” means the Director of Building and Planning Department, or his/her designee.

“FAA” means the federal regulatory agency responsible for the safety of the nation’s air traffic control system, including airspace impacted by wireless communications support structures and towers.

“FCC” means the federal regulatory agency charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable.

“Height” means, when referring to a wireless communications facility, the distance measured from the original grade at the base of the tower to the highest point on the support tower or structure, including the antenna(s). This measurement shall not include any lightning rods or other inactive devices less than eight feet in length intended solely to ground or otherwise protect the facility.

“Industrial districts” means any area designated by the Cowlitz County Land Use Ordinance or Cowlitz County Comprehensive Plan as an industrial or manufacturing district.

“Monopole” means a support tower composed of a single spire used to support one or more antenna(s).

“Parent parcel” means the original parcel underlying and surrounding a wireless communications facility lease area, and typically means the parcel from which the lease area was separated from.

“Personal wireless communications service” means wireless communications services.

“Remote location” means any site that is located more than one mile from the nearest county road or residence, measured in a straight line.

“Residential area or districts” means any area designated by the Cowlitz County Land Use Ordinance or Cowlitz County Comprehensive Plan as a residential district. This may also include areas within other designations that are predominantly residential in nature.

“Resource lands/areas” means agricultural, mineral, and forest lands as defined in RCW 36.70A.030.

“Setback” means the required distance from any structural part of a wireless communication facility (including support wires, support attachments, and auxiliary support equipment) to either the property line of the parent parcel on which the wireless communication facility is located and/or to the nearest structure, depending on location.

“Site” means the lease area(s) occupied by a wireless communications facility and includes any support tower, support structure, and all auxiliary equipment necessary for the operation of the wireless communications facility.

“Structure” means that which is built or constructed, an edifice or building of any kind or any works erected, built up or composed of parts joined together in some definite manner.

“Substantial increase or substantial change” means:

1. The mounting of the proposed antenna on the tower would increase the existing height of the tower by more than 10 percent, or by the height of one additional antenna array with separation from the nearest existing antenna not to exceed 20 feet, whichever is greater, except that the mounting of the proposed antenna may exceed the size limits set forth in this subsection if necessary to avoid interference with existing antennas; or

2. The mounting of the proposed antenna would involve the installation of more than the standard number of new equipment cabinets for the technology involved, not to exceed four, or more than one new equipment shelter; or

3. The mounting of the proposed antenna would involve adding an appurtenance to the body of the tower that would protrude from the edge of the tower more than 20 feet, or more than the width of the tower structure at the level of the appurtenance, whichever is greater, except that the mounting of the proposed antenna may exceed the size limits set forth in this subsection if necessary to shelter the antenna from inclement weather or to connect the antenna to the tower via cable; or

4. The mounting of the proposed antenna would involve excavation outside the current tower site, defined as the current boundaries of the leased or owned property surrounding the tower and any access or utility easements currently related to the site.

“Support structure” means an existing building or other structure to which an antenna is or will be attached, including, but not limited to, buildings, steeples, water towers, and signs. Support structures do not include support towers or any building or structure used for residential purposes.

“Support tower” means a structure designed and constructed exclusively to support a wireless communication facility or an antenna array, including monopoles, self-supporting towers, guy-wire support tower, and other similar structures.

“Temporary wireless communications facilities” means any wireless communication facility which is to be placed in use for not more than 60 days, is not deployed in a permanent manner, and does not have a permanent foundation.

“Utility pole placement/replacement” means placement of antennas or antenna arrays on existing or replaced structures such as utility poles, light standards, and light poles for streets and parking lots. Utility pole replacements shall not be considered new support towers.

“Wireless communications/service” shall mean any personal wireless services as defined by the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, including but not limited to cellular service, digital wireless service, personal communications services (PCS), specialized mobile radio (SMR), enhanced specialized mobile radio (ESMR), commercial paging, and similar FCC licensed commercial wireless telecommunications services that currently exist or that may in the future be developed.

“Wireless communications facilities” means any unstaffed facility used to transmit, receive, distribute, provide or offer personal wireless communications services. Wireless communications facilities include, but are not limited to, all auxiliary support equipment, any support tower or structure used to achieve the necessary elevation for the antenna, transmission and reception cabling and devices, and all antenna arrays. [Ord. 13-104, § 1, 10-8-13.]

18.70.040 Applicability.

The requirements of this chapter shall apply to all new personal wireless communications facilities and the expansion and/or alteration of any existing personal wireless communications facilities. [Ord. 13-104, § 1, 10-8-13.]

18.70.050 Exemptions.

The following are exempt from the provisions of this chapter, unless otherwise specified in this chapter:

A. Wireless communication facilities which were legally established prior to the effective date of this chapter;

B. Temporary wireless communications facilities used for temporary emergency communications in the event of a disaster, emergency preparedness, and public health or safety purposes;

C. Two-way communication transmitters used for temporary or emergency services including but not limited to fire, police, and ambulance services;

D. Licensed amateur (HAM) radio stations and citizens band stations;

E. Maintenance, repair, replacements, and upgrades of existing wireless communications facilities and related equipment, provided such activity does not substantially increase the height, footprint, width, or mass of the facility;

F. Roof mounted dish antennas used for residential purposes and VHF and UHF receive-only television antennas;

G. Installation and use of antenna(s) smaller than one meter in diameter, or one meter in any direction, for use by a private dwelling occupant for personal, home occupation, utility monitoring, or private telecommunications purposes. [Ord. 13-104, § 1, 10-8-13.]

18.70.060 Authority and administration.

All applications under this chapter shall be made to the Cowlitz County Building and Planning Department. The Director or his/her designee shall administer, interpret, and enforce the provisions of this chapter and shall provide such forms and establish such procedures as may be necessary to administer this chapter. [Ord. 13-104, § 1, 10-8-13.]

18.70.070 Nonconforming uses and structures.

Legally established wireless communications facilities in operation as of the effective date of this chapter that do not conform to the location or development standards of this chapter are considered nonconforming uses, and may be maintained as provided for in CCC 18.70.050(E). A substantial increase of the height, footprint, width or mass of existing antennas, towers, buildings, support structures, auxiliary support equipment, or other associated facilities shall comply with the requirements of this chapter. [Ord. 13-104, § 1, 10-8-13.]

18.70.080 Site location of wireless facilities.

A. New wireless communications facilities shall be located in conformance with the siting priorities identified in this chapter. For mixed use districts, the most restrictive designation shall apply. Location preferences are listed in descending order, with the highest priority preference first:

1. Collocation on legally existing wireless communication support structures or towers.

2. Collocation on existing support structures or towers not currently being used as a wireless communication facility; provided, that the support structure or tower is legally established.

3. New towers or support structures located in remote locations, resource areas or industrial districts.

4. New towers or support structures located in commercial districts.

5. New towers or support structures located in residential districts or any other location not specified above.

B. Collocation. The county shall deny an application for a new support tower if the applicant does not demonstrate a good faith effort to collocate on an existing facility. Applicants for new support towers shall demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Director that collocation is not feasible by showing that at least one of the following conditions exist:

1. No existing towers or structures are located within the applicant’s projected or planned service area for their facility; or

2. Existing towers or structures do not meet minimum structural specifications or cannot be reconfigured to achieve sufficient height for efficient and effective operations; or

3. Collocation would cause a nonconformance situation; or

4. Collocation would result in electronic, electromagnetic, or other radio frequency interference with existing or proposed installations; or

5. A reasonable financial arrangement between the applicant and the owner(s) of existing facilities could not be reached.

C. New Towers or Support Structures. Unless the new wireless facility will be located at the highest priority new tower or support structure location, the applicant shall demonstrate that:

1. Collocation is not feasible and has been demonstrated in accordance with subsection B of this section;

2. None of the higher priority locations are available; or

3. If one is available, it is not a feasible location for the proposed facility; or

4. If feasible, the location is less desirable than the one proposed from the standpoint of minimizing impacts on surrounding land uses.

D. Lease Areas. Except as otherwise required in this chapter, lease areas for new support towers shall be exempt from all lot standards of any zone or Comprehensive Plan designation in which they are permitted. [Ord. 13-104, § 1, 10-8-13.]

18.70.090 Design and development standards.

Unless otherwise exempted in this chapter, the standards set forth below shall apply to all wireless communication facilities in the unincorporated areas of Cowlitz County. In the event of conflicts with this chapter and any other development standards contained in local ordinance, state law or federal law, the more stringent provision shall apply.

A. New Towers and Substantially Changed Towers. The following standards shall apply to all new and substantially changed wireless facility support towers:

1. Collocation. All support towers shall be designed to accommodate collocation opportunities for a minimum of two antenna arrays.

2. Signage. Wireless communication towers and antenna(s) shall not be used for signage, symbols, flags, banners, nor other devices or objects attached or painted on any part of the wireless communication tower, provided:

a. All wireless communications facilities shall be identified with a nonilluminated sign not exceeding four square feet. The sign shall identify the wireless service provider’s name and emergency contact information, and shall be posted in a place visible to the general public.

b. Other emergency information, public safety warnings, and/or any additional signage required by a governmental agency may be displayed in an appropriate manner.

c. Camouflage techniques incorporated into wireless facility design shall be allowed, provided they are in compliance with the camouflage design standards of this chapter.

3. Noise. Wireless communication facilities shall not generate public nuisance noise levels as set forth in Chapter 10.25 CCC.

4. Height. The applicant shall demonstrate that the tower is the minimum height required to function satisfactorily.

5. Setbacks. A support tower’s setback shall be measured from the base of the tower in a horizontal line.

a. All new support towers in remote locations and resource areas shall maintain a minimum 25-foot setback from the property line of the parent parcel, or a distance equal to or greater than the tower height from the nearest existing structure, whichever is greater.

b. All new support towers in industrial or commercial zones and related Comprehensive Plan designations shall maintain a setback from the nearest existing structure equal to three feet for every 10 feet of tower height over 35 feet.

c. All new support towers in all other areas shall maintain a setback equal to or greater than the tower height from the nearest existing structure, or a minimum 50-foot setback from the property lines of the parent parcel, whichever is greater.

d. Setbacks for auxiliary structures shall be those of the underlying zoning district or as required by the International Fire Code, whichever is greater.

e. Regardless of location, all new support towers shall maintain a minimum setback equal to the tower height from existing residences or existing residential accessory structures.

6. Lighting. No signals, lights, or illuminated signs shall be permitted on towers unless required by the FAA, FCC or are part of an approved camouflage plan. Security lighting for auxiliary equipment and emergency lighting shall be hooded and/or shielded to prevent light transmission to neighboring properties.

7. Fencing. Security fencing no less than six feet in height with access through a locked gate shall be required around each tower and its related equipment.

8. Landscaping and Screening. The visual impacts of a wireless communications facility shall be mitigated through landscaping or other screening. All wireless facilities, with the exception of those located in remote areas, shall meet the following screening and landscaping requirements:

a. A row of evergreen trees or shrubs shall be planted along the outside and adjacent to the perimeter fence. The vegetation shall be no less than four feet in height when planted, and spaced in such a way as to obscure the facility from view.

b. Any screening shall be kept in good health and repair at all times by the owner or operator of the wireless facility.

c. Any combination of existing vegetation, berming, topography, walls, decorative fences, or other features instead of landscaping may be permitted if they achieve the same degree of screening as the required landscaping.

d. The landscaping and screening standards may be waived by the Director for those sides of the facility that are not in public view.

9. Color. For all new wireless communications facilities, the following criteria shall apply:

a. Unless otherwise required by the FAA, all support towers and antennas shall have a nonglare finish and blend in with the natural background.

b. Attached wireless communications facilities shall be of a neutral color that matches the color of the wireless support structure to the greatest extent possible to minimize visual impacts.

10. Parking. Each wireless communications facility shall provide for a minimum of one parking space for staff and/or maintenance personnel.

11. Access. Demonstration of legal access connecting the wireless communication facility and the public right-of-way shall be required at the time of application.

12. Parcel Size. The lease area containing the wireless facility shall be of sufficient size to contain all elements of the proposed wireless facility, and include enough area for the placement of future auxiliary equipment as may be necessary for future collocation tenants.

13. Camouflage/Concealing Techniques. Camouflaging or concealing techniques shall be utilized to minimize the aesthetic impacts to an area.

a. Wireless communications facilities, antenna support structures, and attached wireless communications facilities shall be designed with camouflage or concealing techniques appropriate to the context, as determined by the Director, so they do not appear to be out of place.

b. All elements of the proposed camouflage or concealing technique shall be maintained for the life of the facility. A maintenance plan shall be provided detailing provisions for ensuring continued effectiveness of the camouflage.

14. Cameras. Any cameras proposed with a wireless facility shall be positioned so as not to intrude on the privacy of adjacent residences.

B. Utility Pole Placement/Replacement. Placement of antennas or antenna arrays, outside of county road rights-of-way, and on existing structures such as utility poles, light standards, and light poles for street and parking lots shall not be considered new support towers, and parcel size, setback, landscaping, fencing, and screening requirements of this chapter shall not apply.

1. Utility pole replacements are subject to the following:

a. The existing structure may be replaced with a similar diameter pole not exceeding 30 additional feet in height, or by the minimum separation required by the utility company plus the height of two elevation segments of antennas, whichever is less. Such increase in height shall only be allowed for the first placement/replacement on the pole, and shall in no case exceed 30 feet.

b. The pole extension may not exceed the diameter of the pole at the mounting point for the antennas.

2. Placement of antennas or antenna arrays, including utility pole placements and replacements, within county road rights-of-way are subject to the following:

a. Placements and replacements within county road rights-of-way shall be subject to franchising or licensing requirements under Chapter 36.55 RCW and CCC Title 12.

b. Placements and replacements within county road rights-of-way shall be subject to permitting and approvals under Chapter 12.21 CCC, and county roads standards under CCC Title 12 and Chapter 16.15 CCC.

C. Attached Wireless Facilities. New attached wireless facilities are subject to the signage, noise, lighting, color, camouflage, and camera provisions of subsection A of this section.

D. New Collocation. Carriers who collocate on existing towers or structures shall be allowed to construct or install accessory equipment and shelters as required for facility operation. A one-time increase in height of up to 10 percent of an existing tower or wireless structure’s height, or by the height of one additional antenna array with separation from the nearest existing antenna not to exceed 20 feet, whichever is greater, shall be allowed. Any additional increase in height shall not substantially increase the horizontal dimensions, bulk, or footprint of the support tower. Such development shall be subject to regulations under the International Building Code (IBC), applicable standards of the underlying zoning designation, and the applicable development standards pursuant to this chapter (e.g., lighting, security, signage).

E. Public Safety Communications. All new support towers allowed under this chapter shall be designed for, and the owner shall not deny, collocation of public safety communications equipment at fair market value or other cost agreed by the parties in order to mitigate wireless communications interference with public safety communications.

F. Variances. The development standards of this chapter may be reduced, increased, altered, or amended subject to approval of a variance in accordance with the procedures set forth in the CCC 18.10.340 through 18.10.365, or as amended. [Ord. 22-067 § 1, 6-28-22; Ord. 13-104, § 1, 10-8-13.]

18.70.100 Permitting process and administration.

A wireless communication facility permit shall be required for all new wireless communications facilities, utility pole placement/replacement, and collocation proposals.

A. Application content for all facilities:

1. Master application and parcel description, including an assessor’s map and parcel number.

2. Narrative describing all elements of the proposed facility and how the proposal meets the criteria in the above sections involving site location and design and development standards.

3. A comprehensive description of the existing and/or proposed facilities, including the technical reasons for the design and configuration of the facility, design and dimensional information, and the capability of future collocation. The description shall include an analysis, completed by an engineer licensed in the state of Washington and/or by the FCC, of the proposal area and discussion of factors influencing the decision to target the proposed location. Such analysis shall include the good faith efforts and measures taken to secure a higher priority location, how and why such efforts were unsuccessful, and how and why the proposed site is essential to meet service demands for the geographic service area. The engineering analysis element is not required for collocation applications.

4. Documentation that establishes the applicant’s right to use the site. Acceptable documentation includes a proposed lease agreement, easement agreement, or license agreement.

5. Photographic analysis of the proposed site, including a representation of existing conditions and finished project conditions.

6. A scaled site plan identifying all elements of the proposed facility, proposed means of access, and setbacks to all structures and significant features within 1,000 feet.

7. A vicinity map.

8. Any additional applicable information the Director deems necessary to adequately review the proposal.

B. Additional application materials required for new support towers:

1. Elevation drawings of the proposed site and facility, including the tower, equipment structures, antennas, mounts and any structures deemed relevant for screening and analyses. Other features, including but not limited to proposed facility color, security fencing and screening shall be included.

2. A detailed landscaping and screening plan, including existing and proposed vegetation, installation procedures, and landscaping/screening maintenance plans.

3. Analysis of collocation opportunities at existing wireless communication facilities within the intended service area. The analysis shall demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Director that collocation on an existing tower is not feasible within the intended service area. The county may deny a new support tower if future collocation opportunities are not provided or if the applicant is unable to demonstrate that collocation on an existing tower is not feasible.

4. If camouflage technology is proposed, the applicant shall provide a complete description of the suggested camouflage, including style and materials to be used, a photographic depiction of the proposed facility, and a maintenance plan detailing provisions for the continued effectiveness of the suggested camouflage for the life of the facility.

5. A report from a licensed professional engineer documenting that:

a. The support structure is designed for collocation of other antennas.

b. The facility complies with all applicable standards of the FAA and FCC, including RF and EMF emission standards.

c. The antenna usage will not interfere with other adjacent or neighboring transmission or reception communication signals.

C. Review Process. Upon receipt of a complete application for a wireless communications facility, the application will be processed following one of the two procedures described below:

1. Administrative Approval. Collocation, utility pole placement/replacement, and new wireless communications support towers in remote areas, designated resource areas, and industrial areas may be approved administratively by the Director.

a. Within 30 days of the receipt of a complete application, the Director shall distribute copies of the application to agencies with jurisdiction for their review. The return date for the agency findings and recommendations shall be set at 10 days after the date of reviewing agency receipt of the review copies.

b. The Director shall ensure that all provisions of this chapter have been complied with, and that all findings and recommendations from the reviewing agencies with jurisdiction have been adequately addressed.

c. The Director may affix such conditions on the permit as necessary to ensure compliance with the requirements of this chapter and the findings and recommendations of reviewing agencies with jurisdiction.

2. Hearing Examiner Approval. Unless identified in subsection (C)(1) of this section, all new wireless communications facilities applications shall be heard in an open record public hearing by the Cowlitz County Hearing Examiner for compliance with the requirements and standards of this chapter and any other applicable regulations.

a. Upon receipt of an application for a new wireless communications facility, the Director shall review it for completeness and conformance with the requirements and standards of this chapter and the goals and objectives of the Comprehensive Plan.

b. Upon a determination of a complete application, the Director shall distribute copies of the application to all other agencies with jurisdiction for a period of no less than 10 days.

c. The Director shall generate a report of findings to be attached to the application, and upon completion of the Director’s review, a copy of the application, together with the report and any conditions of approval, shall be forwarded to the Cowlitz County Hearing Examiner, and a date shall be set for an open record public hearing to consider the application. The county shall provide notice of such hearing pursuant to CCC 18.10.480.

d. The Hearing Examiner may condition such wireless communications facility approval as necessary to comply with the requirements of this chapter, the County Comprehensive Plan, development regulations, and environmental regulations.

e. The Hearing Examiner shall issue a decision which shall be final for county purposes. Any party aggrieved by the decision of the hearing examiner, with standing as provided by Chapter 36.70C RCW, may appeal such decision pursuant to CCC 18.10.310. [Ord. 13-104, § 1, 10-8-13.]

18.70.110 Abandonment and removal.

No less than 30 days prior to the date that a personal wireless services provider plans to abandon or discontinue operation of a facility, the owner and/or provider must notify the Director by certified U.S. mail of the proposed date of abandonment or discontinuation of operation. In the event that an owner or provider fails to give notice, the facility shall be considered abandoned upon the county’s discovery of discontinuation of operations. Upon such abandonment, the provider shall have 180 days, or an additional period of time determined in the reasonable discretion of the county, within which to:

A. Reactivate the use of the facility or transfer the facility to another provider who makes actual use of the facility; or

B. Dismantle and remove the facility. If the tower, antenna, foundation, and facility are not removed within the 180-day time period, or an additional time period allowed by the county, the county may remove such tower, antenna, foundation and related facilities at the provider’s expense. If there are two or more providers collocating on a facility, then this provision shall not become effective until all providers cease using the facility. [Ord. 13-104, § 1, 10-8-13.]

18.70.120 Violations – Penalties.

It is a civil infraction for any person to violate this chapter or assist in the violation of this chapter. Violations are subject to the provisions of Chapter 2.06 CCC. Any violation is a public nuisance. Each day a violation exists is a separate violation. Payment of any penalty imposed for a violation does not relieve a person from the duty to comply with this chapter. [Ord. 13-104, § 1, 10-8-13.]