As a cell site leasing attorney, one of the most common questions I get from a potential client is “How can I get a cell site on my property?” The answer is similar to the common saying in Hollywood – “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” It is easier to understand why this is the case with a brief background into the cell site acquisition process.
With this Ring I Thee Search
The cell site acquisition process begins with the cellular carrier creating a search ring of an area within which the carrier seeks to increase its network capacity. This is literally a circle drawn on an area map that shows the existing cell sites and the specific area where a new cell site is needed. The cellular carrier’s real estate agents use this information to approach potential landlords as well as to identify existing cell sites of other carriers where they may be able to sublease space at those existing sites (referred to in the industry as “collocation”).
Being ‘In the Zone’ is Really Valuable
The real estate agent will also contact the local zoning department to obtain a zoning map for the search ring area. The site acquisition agent then studies the current zoning regulations for a new or collocation cell site within the search ring area. All other factors being equal, sites where favorable zoning is available will undoubtedly rise to the top of the list. If a new cell site is not allowed on a specific property without a variance, it is less likely the site acquisition team will pursue that location unless there are not suitable alternatives. Cellular carriers try to avoid zoning that involves a public hearing because (i) the process becomes more expensive; (ii) the time period for approval is drawn out; (iii) the outcome is uncertain; and (iv) there is potential for opposition to arise from the neighborhood.
The A (and E) Team Arrives
After identifying the best property, the real estate agent will reach out to the property owner. If the owner is not interested, the real estate agent will move on to the next candidate property. Once an interested owner is identified, the real estate agent and the Architectural and Engineering (“A&E”) Team will conduct an on-site visit to, among other things, determine whether the site has: (1) access to a public right-of-way or, if not, what access easements must be obtained and from which parties to access the proposed cell site location; (2) soil or building conditions; (3) the distance to a public right-of-way; (4) the availability of utilities; (5) any factors which could make construction difficult (such as soil conditions or topography); (6) distance to and site visibility from neighbors; and (7) radio frequency coverage analysis.
Let the Negotiations Begin!
If the results of the A&E site visit are successful, the real estate agent will pull a grant deed from the public records for those properties which meet the cellular company’s criteria and prepare a draft lease and other documents for review by the property owner. This is the critical point where the lease negotiations really begin, and where a property owner will be benefited by the experience and knowledge of a competent wireless attorney in this specialized area of law.