There is an imminent threat of hundreds of cell towers in Hillsborough. 


The Federal Communications Commission has issued a very pro-industry order designed to make it more difficult for local governments to regulate/deny cell towers.  The order will likely go into effect January 14, 2019.  The cell tower carriers are using this order to push for 5G cell towers located as densely as every 200 feet from each other in residential communities.

However, there are two ways to counteract the order:  1) sue to stay the order (Hillsborough has already joined a major lawsuit to stay the order/invalidate it), and 2) “amend and defend” Hillsborough’s wireless ordinance and other ordinances regulating similar infrastructure to comply with the Order and preserve our aesthetic standards.

The FCC order requires aesthetic standards to be universal for all similar infrastructure.  While the Town is conducting a process to amend our wireless ordinance, the Town is sending mixed signals that convey it is considering weakening the aesthetic standards in our wireless ordinance – rather than strengthening the standards applicable to other infrastructure.  

We need to help them see a pathway to make “amend and defend” work to preserve the aesthetic standards in our existing wireless ordinance and apply those standards to other similar infrastructure.

You can help US

1.     December 10th - Attend the Town Council meeting at 6 pm at Town Hall and ask Council to implement this process:

  • December 21: Submit a draft of the amended ordinances to the citizens’ wireless committee for review;

  • January 3: Hold a meeting for the citizens’ committee to present feedback to the Town;

  • January 14:  Adopt the final amended ordinances into the Town’s municipal code.

2.     December 13th - Attend the community meeting at 6 pm at North School that the Town is holding for citizen feedback on the issue and design criteria. Encourage friends/family to attend!

3. Spread the word


The operative question is not what should be the Town’s aesthetic standards for proposed wireless facilities.  That question is already settled after extensive deliberations over the course of years – and our standards have been accurately embodied in our existing wireless ordinance.

The task before us is how to amend our wireless ordinance – and other ordinances regulating similar infrastructure – to conform to the new FCC administrative law requirements so that we can preserve our existing aesthetic standards.

 Note that the FCC did not prevent local governments from regulating the aesthetics of wireless facilities.  Quite the contrary, the FCC Order holds that aesthetic requirements are not preempted if they are reasonable, no more burdensome than those applied to other similar infrastructure deployments, and objective/published in advance.

In fact, the FCC has said that aesthetic requirements aimed at “avoiding or remedying the intangible public harm of unsightly or out-of-character deployments” are permissible.  (See FCC Summary at page 30:

That is exactly what our wireless ordinance is designed to do.  We should do everything we can to preserve our local authority to do so.

While we want to preserve all of the aesthetic requirements in our existing ordinance, the following lists a number of the key elements for illustrative purposes:

1.     Maintain our rural character.

2.     Keep cell towers away from homes - the hierarchy of preferred locations in the ordinance is first public property; then existing utility poles; existing support structures on non-residential property; new concealed facilities in the rights-of-way.

3.     Design criteria with 35’ height restrictions, 1500’ spacing requirements, camouflage, consistent with height and design of surrounding features, avoid locating within direct view corridors of residences, consistent with size/shape of pole-mounted equipment on utility poles, concealed facility in the rights-of-way.

4.     Least intrusive design in terms of size, mass, visual and physical impact, and effects on properties from which the wireless facility is visible.

5.     All portions of a facility affixed to a support structure shall blend in or be screened from view in a manner consistent with the support structure’s architectural style, color and materials … and shall be painted and textured or otherwise camouflaged to match the color and texture of the support structure on which they are mounted.

6.     Underground equipment to the maximum extent possible.

7.     Use alternative designs to minimize the impact, such as small antennas on stop signs or embedded in street lamps or lightpoles, as outlined in the CTC report that Hillsborough commissioned.

To preserve those principles under the new FCC Order, Hillsborough needs to seek amendments to achieve two primary things at least.  One, amend our wireless ordinance to convert all “subjective” standards to “objective” standards.  Two, amend all ordinances for similar infrastructure deployments (e.g., electrical including utility poles, telecommunications equipment, perhaps others) so that the same aesthetic standards that apply to wireless infrastructure apply to all other similar infrastructure in order to comply with the FCC non-discrimination (“no more burdensome”) rule.

Most significantly, the FCC order prohibits any aesthetic restrictions on cell towers that also do not apply to utility infrastructure (especially telephone poles) such as minimum spacing requirements, camouflage, color of paint, and the size of equipment.  So the Town needs to add provisions to its ordinance to regulate the aesthetics of utility poles on par with the cell tower requirements – or the cell tower provisions could be invalidated. 

The objective is to strengthen the aesthetic standards for similar infrastructure, not to weaken the aesthetic standards in our wireless ordinance.

This will open the floodgates for Verizon and 26 other carriers like AT&T to add more towers throughout the town. This is just the beginning!
— Concerned Residents Of Hillsborough

The Cell Towers are Intrusive and Dangerous.

They will create a dangerous precedent.  Other communities which have approved residential cell towers have fallen into this trap and are now fighting 80-foot towers and even 120-foot towers in their communities.  Once installed, the wireless carrier has even more legal power to make it higher, bulkier, and more of an eyesore.  The cell carriers' goal in anticipation of 5G is to install 60 cell towers per square mile for every carrier in residential areas.  Hillsborough has 6.25 square miles.  While it is Verizon today seeking to install up to 375 towers, tomorrow it will be Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile each seeking to put up an equal number of huge cell towers in front of your house or your school or your park. Hillsborough could turn into a cell tower farm!

They will threaten your health.  Radio frequency emissions above the federal guidelines as the proposed cell towers emit have been linked to cancer and serious adverse health effects.  So even if the cell tower is not adjacent to your house, it could affect hundreds of homes in the emission radius.  In fact, the Town requires the posting of a huge blue warning sign on each cell tower warning that the area exceeds federal guidelines for radio frequency emissions.


They will ruin the aesthetics of Hillsborough.  We are a strictly residential, rural town historically known for “no street lamps and no sidewalks.” 55-foot cell towers looming over homes with bulky 10’ by 2’ coffin-size utility boxes strapped to them with no camouflage will create visual blight and destroy views. Cell towers should be away from homes in town-owned land open space!

They will tank property values.  Studies have determined that homes in the blast radius of radio frequency-emitting cell towers lose 20% or more of their property value.  Just think of the free fall of home prices when the Town is ringed with massive cell towers like an industrial park.  And the existence of a cell tower near your property MUST be included in the disclosure packet when selling your home.

They could create a fire hazard.  The 2007 Malibu Canyon fire was sparked by wireless equipment attached to a wooden utility pole, just as the Verizon plan calls for here in Hillsborough.  The blaze burned 3,800 acres and destroyed dozens of homes and vehicles.  Hillsborough is in the highest level fire risk area in the state.

We need to urge town officials to fight this, and we all need to contribute to the cause with our time and money to give us a fighting chance!
— Hillsborough Resident

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