City/County Wireless Facilities Ordinance Public Meeting Set For August 31

Staff from the Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC) recently completed a draft cell tower ordinance for the City of Knoxville and Knox County. 

The last update to the cell tower ordinance was in 2001, when people were only using cell phones for phone calls on a 2G (second generation) system.  As smart phones have become more popular, people now expect to be able to access data anywhere and on multiple devices. To respond to this demand, the industry is moving towards 5G to increase capacity and speed.

To illustrate the download speed evolution, a 2 hour movie used to take 26 hours to download with 3G technology. With the upcoming 5G system, the speed to download the same movie is anticipated to be 3.6 seconds.

As the industry moves forward with 5G, the towers will be smaller and closer together. 


The purpose of the ordinance is to:

  1. Promote and protect the public health, safety and welfare, preserve the aesthetic character of the community, and to reasonably regulate the development and operation of wireless communication facilities (WCFs) within the City and County to the extent permitted under State and Federal law;
  2. Encourage collocation on existing towers and structures (collocation is the act of affixing multiple antenna arrays to one structure);
  3. Protect residential zones, historic districts, scenic highways and parkways from excessive development of WCFs by ensuring that towers in or near these areas are only sited when alternative facility locations are not feasible;
  4. Accommodate the growing demand for wireless communication services;
  5. Enable WCF providers to furnish comprehensive and efficient wireless communications service to the community minimizing the adverse impacts of their facilities;
  6. Encourage the use of the latest technology through advances in siting and design;
  7. Establish clear standards for an orderly process for permit application review.


The draft ordinance has many improvements over the existing ordinance, including:

  • Incorporates elements of the Wireless Communications Facilities Plan,
  • Incorporates location priorities,
  • Requires alternative site analysis,
  • Connects to zoning districts,
  • Limits to monopoles (excluding guyed and lattice towers),
  • Limits height up to 200’,
  • Allows for administrative approvals,
  • Incorporates standards for small cell (lower powered and smaller antennas),
  • Incorporates separation standard,
  • Improves landscaping and screening standards, and
  • Better addresses base station and equipment shelter design.

The ordinances for the City and County are very similar; the main difference is in the particular zoning districts. Both ordinances can be found below. More information about commercial telecommunication tower trends in Knox County can be found here. A public workshop will be held on August 31, 2017 at 6:30 PM at the Cansler Family YMCA, located at 616 Jessamine Street.  Staff will present an overview of the ordinances and be available to answer questions.

City Ordinance County Ordinance