Snowmass Town Council recap: Council OK’s cell tower guidelines; Snowmass Mall transit center on track

Infrastructure gets the spotlight at Feb. 1 meeting

Town infrastructure ruled the agenda at a Feb. 1 Snowmass Village Town Council regular meeting, with telecommunication and transportation at the forefront.

During a swift two-hour meeting Feb. 1, council reviewed design guidelines for 5G cellphone towers and got the latest updates on a forthcoming transit center at the Snowmass Mall.


A rendering of a small cell tower in accordance with Snowmass Village design guidelines.
Town of Snowmass Village/Courtesy image

Town Council unanimously approved two ordinances on first reading that together establish the framework and design guidelines for new “small cell” infrastructure in Snowmass Village.

The approvals give the town as much control as possible over the implementation of new cell towers that would help create a 5G, ultra-high-speed network of cellphone service in the town.

Developing the network would bring the “latest and greatest” technology to the town, Assistant Town Manager Travis Elliott told council; at 5G speeds, downloading a two-hour movie takes only 3.6 seconds, compared with six minutes at 4G speeds or 26 hours at 3G speeds.

But there’s also a “big downside,” Elliott said: “densification.”

5G tower service has a limited range with a radius of 300 feet in any direction, according to town documents; for each of the four major cellphone companies (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon) to cover 1 square mile with a 5G network, the carriers would need to use 16 times the number of towers required for a 4G network in the same space, Elliott said.

The Federal Communications Commission guarantees cellphone companies the right to build 5G towers in the public right of way; that mostly applies to public roads and areas like Town Park in Snowmass Village but would not apply most of the town’s network of recreational trails.

Because of that FCC regulation, the town cannot deny a provider the right to build 5G towers within the “public right of way” parameters. But the town can set rules for how those providers implement 5G cell towers to ensure that the network has a minimal impact on the town’s character.

“While we can’t say no, … the FCC did say we have the ability to regulate their aesthetics,” Elliott said.

Town staff worked with HR Green, an engineering and technical consulting firm, to develop the guidelines.

“It’s been a team effort,” Elliot said.

Key features of the requirements council approved Feb. 1 include a height limit (25 feet or the maximum permitted in the Land Use District, whichever is less), rules on antenna volume (no more than 3.14 cubic feet), spacing regulations (no less than 600 feet between any two towers) and a $1,000 application fee for a new tower.

Those limits are about as stringent as the town can get without impacting the functionality of a potential 5G network. While the town can’t require co-location — in which two companies share one tower to reduce the density of the infrastructure — the design guidelines strongly encourage it.

And as for public safety and exposure to 5G electromagnetic fields, Elliott said the design guidelines and placement of the towers would be within the FCC’s acceptable limits.

“We wouldn’t allow it if it did not meet the standards,” Elliott said.

A public hearing and the second reading of the ordinances establishing the parameters for small cell infrastructure is slated for a Feb. 17 regular meeting.


A rendering of a proposed transit center near the Snowmass Mall as viewed from Daly Lane.
Town of Snowmass Village/Courtesy image

A proposed transit center located near the Snowmass Mall is on track to break ground in 2022, according to Snowmass Village Transportation Director David Peckler.

“We’ve kind of set the groundwork for us moving forward,” Peckler told council Monday night. “Hopefully with a little luck — knock on wood — we’ll be successful.”

The design process will take place this year in collaboration with Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc., an architectural, planning and engineering firm; council approved a preliminary design option for the structure last April.

Town documents indicate that town staff will select a contractor early this year “to assist with construction management plans and pricing as the project design proceeds.”

The project could cost as much as $12 million according to an agenda summary of the latest update; $950,000 will be allocated to design in 2021, Peckler said.

The town has secured $6 million in funding from the Elected Officials Transportation Committee and will receive some support from other local sources and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority; federal and state grants and the town’s capital reserves will cover the remainder of the cost, town documents indicate.

“This is going to be a transformative project for Snowmass,” Mayor Bill Madsen said.