Information on constructing an antenna (referred to as Wireless Telecommunication Services (WTS) Facilities).
Antennas (referred to as Wireless Telecommunication Services (WTS) Facilities) consist of the equipment and structures involved in receiving telecommunications or radio signals from a mobile radio communications source and transmitting those signals, usually to land-based telephone lines or cellular and mobile phones or devices.
Your WTS facility project will require the submittal of a Building Permit Application and other Checklists and forms. Depending on the scope of work and zoning district of your property, your project may require a "Conditional Use Authorization" (CU). For WTS, "notification" to neighbors (known as Neighborhood Notification) will most likely be required depending on your zoning use district (see Understanding What's Allowed below).
Got permitting questions?
Read the FAQ
It is recommended to visit or call Planning staff at the Planning Information Center (PIC) early in the planning of your project. The PIC is at 1660 Mission Street, 1st floor and may also be reached by phone at (415) 558-6377 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also recommend you contact the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) to confirm their requirements before submitting your Building Permit Application. They can be reached at (415) 558-6088, or at 1660 Mission Street 1st floor Public Information Counter.
Understanding What's Allowed
WTS Facility construction is regulated by by the San Francisco Planning Code. To maintain the character and purpose of distinct areas in San Francisco, the City's geography has been divided into distinct zoning use districts (view these zoning use districts on the San Francisco Zoning Map and Section 201 of the Planning Code). For each activity or use of land in any given zoning district, the Code states if that activity or use is either: Permitted; Conditional; or Not Permitted. Therefore knowing the zoning district of your property will help you identify what specific limits may apply to your project and which application materials you will need to submit.
You can find the zoning use district and height limits of your property on the Find My Zoning page, or directly from our San Francisco Property Information Map by entering your address or Assessor's Lot and Block number and click the "Zoning" tab. Once you know the zoning use district of your property, you can reference our useful handout, "Summarizing San Francisco's Residential Zoning District Controls" which summarizes regulations and Code controls for projects in residential districts.
Other Things To Consider
In addition to the zoning district and land use regulations in the San Francisco Planning Code, your application will also be reviewed under provisions in all of San Francisco's Municipal Codes, the San Francisco General Plan, and Department policies based on a number of criteria (e.g. the historical significance of your property, the environmental impact of your project, or other regulations).
Here are the most common regulations you will need to consider:
Pre-Application Process & Neighborhood Notification requirements
If your project requires Neighborhood Notification, the Planning Department mails a notice alerting neighbors and neighborhood groups in the vicinity of your proposed project and they are given a period of 30 days to respond with concerns or to request a Discretionary Review (DR). Depending on the scope of your project, you may also need to provide a "Pre-Application Notice" to nearby neighbors, and/or you may need to hold a "Pre-Application Meeting." The triggers for the Pre-Application Process are explained in the Pre-Application Information Packet.
Accessory Use Determinations for WTS "micro-sites"
Since 1997, the Zoning Administrator has issued Accessory Use Determinations to allow certain WTS installations to be reviewed administratively where Conditional Use would otherwise be required. These installations are considered to be "micro-sites" (smaller WTS installations that emit less power).
Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996
The Federal Government adopted the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that established limits on local jurisdiction regulation of wireless facilities. Among other things, the Act specifically prohibits local jurisdictions from disapproving wireless facilities for public health concerns or denying a permit without "substantial evidence" in a written record. Local jurisdictions retain land use authority and can regulate the height, location, visual impact, and/or zoning compliance of a new WTS antennas.
The Act's guidelines preserve state and local authority over zoning and land use decisions for personal wireless service facilities, but sets forth specific limitations on that authority. Namely, a state or local government:
- may not discriminate among WTS providers
- may not regulate WTS in a manner that prohibits the provision of personal wireless services
- must act on WTS applications within a reasonable period of time
- must make any denial of an WTS application in writing supported by substantial evidence
The statute also preempts local decisions on the environmental effects of radio frequency (RF) emissions, assuming that the provider is in compliance with Federal regulations. Allegations that a local jurisdiction has acted inappropriately would be resolved in court.
Wireless Telecommunication Services ("WTS") Facilities Siting Guidelines
The Wireless Telecommunication Services (WTS) Facilities Siting Guidelines adopted by the Planning Commission August 15, 1996 created a preference schedule for WTS-friendly zoning districts and land uses and provided procedures for review and approval by the San Francisco Planning Department and the Planning Commission. We suggest you review these useful guidelines to further familiarize yourself with WTS permitting procedures in San Francisco.
Compliance with Residential Design Guidelines
In addition to the specific requirements of the Planning Code, projects in Residential districts must conform to the Residential Design Guidelines which insure that the project's scale and architectural character are consistent with the surrounding neighborhood.
Applying for Your Permit & Paying Fees
The following information must be submitted when applying to construct or replace a WTS facilities:
Construction plans and/or drawings
A map of your construction site must be submitted as described in the application packet and full-size architectural plans with dimensions in feet of: the building height; any roof or penthouse height; parapet wall height; and existing and proposed WTS equipment.
Photo-simulations are submitted to document the proposed aesthetic impact of an installation. Based on the submitted plans, the applicant should digitize the antennas, equipment cabinets and any stealthing/screening component that would be visible from the street.
Building Permit Application
Since every project is unique, we have a useful matrix handout, the Permit Application Checklist which explains submittal requirements based on the proposed work as described under "How to Use This Matrix." We also have a Neighborhood Notification handout that describes that process.
Forms provided in the Pre-Application Packet (if a Pre-Application Meeting is required)
Section 106 Declaration of Intent
Each site that impacts a resource or potential historic resource must comply with the National Historic Preservation Act by conducting a Section 106 review, the Federal law establishing Federal agencies' responsibility to take account of the effect of their actions on structures that have been rated historic resources (see Historic Preservation for more info). Although the review for compliance rests outside local jurisdictions, the Planning Department requires a Declaration of Intent to comply.
Wireless Telecommunications Facility Application Checklist
Based on the zoning district of your site, your WTS facility may need Conditional Use Authorization (CU), or it may be allowed with only a Building Permit (with or without neighborhood notification), or or it may be approved administratively. Based on your type of application you would need to complete one of the four WTS applications by which the Planning Department and/or the Planning Commission review new installations or modifications to existing sites (contact the PIC if you are uncertain as to which category applies to your project).
- Conditional Use (CU) Application Checklist
- Principally Permitted Application Checklist
- Accessory Use Application Checklist
- Modification to Existing Application Checklist
- 5-Year Plan
A current 5-Year Plan must be on file with the Department in order to process any new applications. The plan must be updated bi-annually April 1, and Oct 1, listing proposed WTS sites over that period and certain other details of your equipment such as the type of technology, radio frequencies and types of consumer services (see "Section 10" of the Wireless Telecommunication Services (WTS) Facilities Siting Guidelines).
Project Implementation Reports ("PIR") must be up to date for your existing WTS sites
PIR are emission reports to demonstrate that each site is within Federal Communications Commission FCC established thresholds for emissions. Although Federal regulations prohibit local jurisdictions from denying applications based on the potential/perceived health hazards, the WTS Guidelines require service providers to document that their facilities are operating within the established standards. Based on the PIR submitted to DPH for verification, facilities operating at maximum power have never approached the maximum threshold for human exposure, rarely exceeding 2% of the maximum exposure level.
Current Emissions Report
An emissions report reviewed by the Department of Public Health (DPH) for accuracy for your proposed WTS site will be required.
To submit a permit, prepare the Building Permit Application and bring it along with all necessary plans and materials as described in the Permit Application Checklist and/or Building Application Packet to the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) at 1660 Mission Street. If you are a new user, we recommend you come to the Planning Information Center (PIC) also at 1660 Mission Street before proceeding to DBI.
Permit fees are based on the construction cost of your project. To estimate permit fees, the Planning Department's fee schedule is available online. We also have a fee calculator for Building Permits reviewed by the Planning Department. If you have any questions, please stop by or call the Planning Information Center (PIC) staff at (415) 558-6377. Depending on your location and project type, impact fees may be required for new construction. Contact the PIC to see if these requirements apply to your property. Please note this is for the Planning Department's review fees only. Fees for review by the Building Department are available here. You may also call DBI at 558-6088.
Don't forget: Should the cost of staff time exceed the initial fee you paid, it is possible an additional fee for time and materials may be billed upon completion of the permit review process. Additional fees may also be collected for preparation and recordation of any documents with the San Francisco Assessor-Recorder’s office and for monitoring compliance with any conditions of approval.
Permit Review Process
WTS Facilities are reviewed and authorized by the Planning Commission through a Conditional Use Application and/or the Planning Department through a Building Permit Application (“BPA”). Facilities that are conditionally permitted through a Conditional Use Application process are reviewed by the Planning Department and the Planning Commission, and are appealable to the Board of Supervisors. Facilities that are principally permitted through a Building Permit Application are reviewed only by the Planning Department, unless a Discretionary Review (DR) is filed during the Neighborhood Notification process, which would cause the BPA to be reviewed by the Planning Commission. BPAs are appealable to the Board of Appeals.
Preferred Location Sites
Section 8.1 of the Guidelines establishes a “preference schedule” based on the proposed site's zoning district and existing use. Generally:
- Preferred Location Sites include public structures; industrial and commercial structures; mixed use buildings and co-location sites (multiple providers);
- Limited Preference Sites are sited in Neighborhood Commercial Districts;
- Disfavored Sites are residentially zoned sites.
Conditional Use Application Approval
Most Conditional Use applications are approved. However, not all Conditional Use applications submitted to the Planning Department are forwarded to the Planning Commission with a recommendation for approval. Many applications that are not supported by the Department are withdrawn by the applicant or cancelled by the Department. Neighborhood opposition have also caused applications to be withdrawn, cancelled or disapproved.
Inspections of permitted work is the responsibility of the Department of Building Inspection. DBI's Inspection Services page explains their inspection function.
Applications & Handouts
Applications Mentioned On This Page
Handouts Mentioned On This Page