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County Council to Host Forum on Small Cell Towers on Oct. 26

The Montgomery County Council will hold an informational forum at Ridgeview Middle School in Gaithersburg on a proposal that would allow for the installation of small cell antennas and poles in public rights-of-way. The meeting will provide an opportunity to learn about pending telecommunication tower applications and to ask questions about existing and proposed County regulations.

The meeting is planned from 7-9 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 26, at Ridgeview Middle School is located at 16600 Raven Rock Drive in Gaithersburg.

The Council is now considering proposed Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 16-05, sponsored by Council President Nancy Floreen, which would allow telecommunications poles no higher than 30 feet in various zones with standards for their construction. The Council held a public hearing on the proposal on July 19.

“As people are disconnecting from the traditional wired telephone and use their cell phones for far more than voice communication, there is a greater demand for wireless services in residential areas,” said a press release from the County Council. “The telecommunications industry can meet this need with small antennas on short poles.”

Under the Federal Communications Act and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules, the County may not unreasonably discriminate among providers of functionally equivalent services, may not regulate in a manner that prohibits or has the effect of prohibiting the provision of personal wireless services, must act on new tower applications within 150 days and must make any denial of an application in writing supported by substantial evidence in a written record. The statute also preempts local decisions premised directly or indirectly on the environmental effects of FCC allowed radio frequency (RF) emissions.

Antennas may be placed on utility poles. Some neighborhoods have underground utilities without utility poles; however, most neighborhoods have street light poles. The new equipment cannot be supported on existing residential street light poles. An applicant intends to replace the existing street light pole with a pole that could accommodate antennas and a street light. These poles would be less than 30-feet tall compared to the traditional oversized cell towers that rise high above the areas in which they are erected.

The current Zoning Ordinance requires a conditional use approval for every new pole, no matter how short the pole. Councilmember Floreen proposed the ZTA in the belief that standards for 30-foot poles will offer the community and the providers with a more predictable approach to moving forward on improvements in County wireless service.

The meeting will be recorded by County Cable Montgomery (CCM) and broadcast numerous times on Cable Channels 996 (high-definition) and 6 (standard definition) on Comcast; Channels 1056 (HD) and 6 (SD) on RCN; and Channel 30 on Verizon. Times of the rebroadcasts have yet to be determined.

Video courtesy of