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County Pulls Fast One with Small Cell Antenna Meetings

There is a Community Meeting tonight from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm at Montgomery College in Germantown about Montgomery County and wireless companies’ controversial plans to install small cell antennas on utility poles in residential neighborhoods.

There was another meeting last night in Silver Spring. Did you hear about it? Neither did the Germantown Pulse, which is odd. The Pulse receives hundreds of press releases from Montgomery County about various events, meetings, and happenings in the County. Admittedly, we don’t report on all of them. Our rule is that if it isn’t taking place in the Germantown/Clarksburg/ Up-County area, we don’t include it in our coverage unless there is an extenuating circumstance. While some Germantown residents may be interested in the Planning Board’s decision on the White Oak Project, we don’t believe it is Germantown news.

However, a Community Meeting about a plan to put more than 45 cell towers in the Waters Landing neighborhood. That is news. We’d report that. Folks in Germantown, especially those in the Waters Landing neighborhood are going to want to know about it that meeting.

Especially, when the last time the County and wireless companies held such a meeting, it was broadly contentious and very well attended. That meeting was held in October 2016 at Ridgeview Middle School in Gaithersburg. There were over a hundred people at that meeting. As one attendee of that meeting said, “Nobody wants it.”

That might explain why these meetings were “announced” on a sleepy Saturday less than 72 hours before the first meeting took place on the following Monday evening.

Granted the County’s Transmission Facilities Coordination Group has a small slice of the MontgomeryCountyMD.gov website where the information about the meetings and possible changes to the County’s Zoning Ordinances are housed. It could be argued that it is public, but you’d have do a lot of digging to find it.

There was no press release about these Small Cell Antenna meetings. The first time these meetings were publicized was through a series of three Tweets by Montgomery County at 3:45 pm on Monday, Sept 18, the meeting in Silver Spring was a little more than four hours later.

For a comparison, the Silver Spring Jazz Festival, which had a great lineup and is a great event on Saturday, Sept. 9 was first Tweeted about by the official Montgomery County Twitter account on Saturday, Sept. 2, and was talked about on the Twitter feed four more times during the week leading up to the event. Germantown Pulse received a press release about the Silver Spring Jazz Festival on August 28.

The Community Meeting, which one can only assume, is meant to inform the public and garner public input on a proposed change in the County’s zoning regulations to allow for the small cell antennas on public utility poles on sidewalks in residential areas. However, not informing the public about a meeting to inform the public until the last possible minute is a pretty sneaky way to get around informing the public. It is not a new tactic; it is one that government agencies have been using for decades when they don’t want the public to know what is happening.

There is something sneaky going on here.

The Pulse has no position on the whether the County should amend the zoning regulations to allow small cell antennas in residential neighborhoods, but the Pulse does feel very strongly about a Montgomery County governmental agency holding public meetings without giving the public ample time to attend the meetings. Holding a public meeting and not inviting the public isn’t a public meeting. It is a clandestine meeting open to the public. Is a party that nobody is invited to a party?

Tonight’s meeting is at Montgomery College-Germantown Campus at 20200 Observation Drive in Germantown from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. The flyer doesn’t really say where the meeting is being held on the college campus, however a map was attached with some parking lots highlighted, but the exact location of the meeting is not spelled out. Anyone planning on going may want to ask someone at the College where the meeting is taking place. There is also no phone number or email listed on the flyer to find out more information and ask more questions.

The folks organizing tonight’s meeting have done everything to avoid having the public attend short of intentionally giving the wrong address.

Montgomery County and the Transmission Facilities Coordination Group should be ashamed. If you have to resort to such deception of the public, perhaps you don’t have the public’s best interest at heart.

UPDATE: After this Germantown Pulse Editorial was published, Montgomery County has updated the flyer to better reflect the location of this meeting. While it is unknown if the update is the result of this editorial, the flyer was updated sometime after the Germantown Pulse posted the above information. The flyer currently linked above is not the same document which was there yesterday and earlier this morning.

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