Montgomery Co. residents get another chance to comment on cell towers

WASHINGTON — Montgomery County residents can comment on a zoning text amendment connected to regulations on the placement and size of cell towers and small cell antennas. A meeting where officials will take public comment is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 23 at the county council office building in Rockville, Maryland.

The county is subject to federal regulation on access to cell service, said Mitsuko Herrera, director of economic development initiative Ultra Montgomery, adding, “Under federal law, we cannot prohibit the provision of telecommunications service.” 

But at the same time, Herrera said, the county is working to balance that federal mandate with local concerns, including making sure the towers and antennas are compatible with neighborhoods. Herrera handles technology and special projects for the county.

The Federal Communications Commission also requires local governments to abide by a timetable to approve cell towers and small cell antennas, Herrera said. When an applicant wants to swap out an antenna on an existing pole, the county has 60 days to review it. If an applicant is co-locating an antenna —adding one to an existing pole — the county has 90 days to carry out the review.

And, Herrera said, if the applicant is seeking to install a brand-new tower or pole, the county has a total of 150 days to conduct its review.

See a map of current and proposed locations for the antennas in Montgomery County here. 

Past meetings on the placement of cell towers and small cell antennas have included sometimes heated comments from residents who object to their placement in residential areas and have concerns about the potential health risks from radio frequency emissions.

Herrera added that while the FCC has established the standards for radio frequency emissions, it’s Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett’s position that the FCC needs to complete a 2013 review of those standards.

“There are standards that are in place, but they were last updated in 1996,” she said, and while the FCC initiated proceedings to update those standards in 2013, that work has not been completed.

Under the amended zoning regulation, the county would limit the height of telecommunications towers to 199 feet in rural, commercial and industrial zones. In residential areas, the height of a small cell antenna pole could be no more than 5 to 10 feet taller than the pole it replaces — depending on the width of paved roadways in the neighborhood.

So at the Oct. 23 meeting, updated information on the proposed zoning text amendment will be provided, with a chance to give public comment to follow. But this will not be the last time the public has a chance to weigh in on the issue, Herrera said.

Leggett will be drafting legislation that will be forwarded to the county council, and, she said, “As with any piece of legislation, the council will hold a formal public hearing.”

Attend the Oct. 23 meeting from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Stella B. Werner Council Office Building, third-floor hearing room, 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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