Gulf Shores makes changes to cell tower regulations


The Gulf Shores City Council recently amended its Code of Ordinances to allow for small cell tower facilities, something which should allow for better cell reception throughout the city.

Planning Director Andy Bauer said the city didn’t previously have anything on the books to even allow for such facilities.

“A small cell tower is small radio antenna equipment placed on structures such as street lights, sides of buildings or existing poles,” Bauer said. “The benefits of small cell towers are that they extend the cellular service coverage and increase network capacity and are a lot less obtrusive than a new cell tower.”

A report to the council member said that in September of 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a report and order to streamline the rollout of infrastructure for broadband services, including small cells for 4G and 5G wireless services. The order provides guidance on fees local governments may charge and on how they may regulate ancillary rollout issues such as small cell pole spacing, equipment design and other aesthetic concerns. Local governments must comply with the FCC guidelines when regulating small cell facilities. The FCC established a deadline of April 15, 2019 for communities to adopt aesthetic regulations for small wireless facilities.

Bauer said a common concern among planning staff was the risk of too many of the structures popping up around the city, especially with the presence of so many service providers. 

Some of the regulations include administrative review to be done in-house by several city departments, establishing a fee schedule based on FCC guidelines, requirement of small cell facilities to co-locate on existing structures unless they can prove it isn’t practical and any new poles will match the existing infrastructure. 

Little Lagoon Pass improvements

After a round of upgrades to Little Lagoon Pass Park, the City of Gulf Shores is looking for additional grant funding for more improvements. 

At its most recent regular meeting, the Gulf Shores City Council voted in favor of pursuing 

an opportunity to nab $50,000 in grant funding for the park. Grants Coordinator Dan Bond said the grant money would be used for construction of additional public access improvements. The grant requires a 1 to 1 match with a maximum grant award of $50,000 which would require a match of $50,000.

Bond said the city has been looking at improvements to this area for some time now.

“In 2014, the city developed the Gulf Place + Little Lagoon Beach Master Plan, which redefined these public parks with the intention of improving recreational public access opportunities,” Bond said. “Little Lagoon Pass Park is an excellent location for fishing, kayaking and low intensity water activities. It’s very popular with families and locals, also popular with visitors. The low-wave action is good for kids to swim around in and it also provides access to the Gulf beachfront underneath the bridge on West Beach Boulevard. So, they don’t even have to cross the street.”

Parking and facilities were historically limited, and the master plan identified a need to create new improve functionality at the park, while maintaining its character and context. In 2017, the city was awarded $50,000 through the ACAMP grant program used towards the construction of a new public fishing pier, paved parking lot, additional ADA parking and a connecting pedestrian pathway. This phase of the project was completed in February 2019 and is currently open to the public.

City staff suggested applying for funding through the 2019 ACAMP Grant Program to offset the cost of additional improvements to Little Lagoon Pass Park that will advance the implementation of the master plan vision. These additional improvements will include the extension of the asphalt pedestrian trail to W. Lagoon Avenue, construction of a new elevated wetland boardwalk connecting to Sandpiper Lane, an overlook along the boardwalk, and additional signage and landscaping. The total estimated cost for all of these improvements is $296,595.

Also approved at the meeting were:

-Accepting an ALDOT Funding Agreement for reimbursement up to $1,000,000 for Construction for Various Roadway Improvements. This agreement will provide $1,000,000 in ALDOT funding for the City managed traffic signal upgrades at CR6/Hwy 59 and along Hwy 182. ALDOT has provided over $8 million dollars to the City through funding agreements and grants for transportation improvements for Hwy 59 and Hwy 182 including widening, resurfacing, sidewalks, bike lanes, traffic signals, access management and bridge improvements.

-Pubic assembly permits for the Winter Entertainment Series 2020 and Tour De Beach 2019.

-Updating the city’s current Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance to meet the NFIP’s requirements in addition to enforcing the new April 2019 FEMA FIRM maps. The city was issued preliminary FEMA FIRM maps in 2017. These maps changed flood zones throughout the area after a study was authorized by FEMA to produce new flood maps. After going through advertising and a comment period, the new maps are now going to be effective April 19. With the effective date of these maps, a new ordinance is required for each jurisdiction to remain compliant with the NFIP.