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County to Hold Public Hearing on Small Cell Antennas in Residential Areas

The Montgomery County Council will hold a public hearing on a proposed Zoning Text Amendment which would allow for telecommunications towers in residential areas on Sept. 25 at 7:30 pm in the third-floor hearing room of the Council Office Building.

There are over 45 of these small cell antennas proposed in the Germantown area, many in the Waters Landing neighborhood.

Montgomery County has recently received a high number of applications to deploy small cell antennas in residential neighborhoods as well as commercial areas around the County. Federal law is clear that Montgomery County cannot pass zoning laws that would have the effect of prohibiting service throughout the County. Therefore, the proposed ZTA is intended to allow providers to provide service while protecting the character of both our residential neighborhoods and commercial areas by regulating how and where these antennas can be placed, and how they should be screened or camouflaged.

Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 18-11 addresses the deployment of 5G small cell antennas in residential areas of the County. The bill was introduced on July 27, 2018 and would allow limited use of the antennas in residential areas and some conditional use in residential areas. As summary of the changes which the bill provides follows:

Telecommunications towers would be allowed in limited use in residential areas:

-To replace poles taller than 22 feet and at least 30 feet from houses

- The height of a replacement structure would be limited to 6 additional feet for streetlights and 10 additional feet for utility poles

- Additional minimal height increased would be allowed for utility poles to comply with safety code

- As colocations attached to existing structures if 30 feet from houses.

- On building roofs or facades if the building is a minimum of 35 feet (three stories), and the building is a minimum of 10 feet from a single family detached house, duplex or townhouse

Telecommunications towers would be allowed as conditional use in residential:

-To replace poles shorter than 22 feet tall and at least 30 feet from houses

- The Replacement pole is limited to 22 feet (8 foot increase)

- A hearing examiner could

- Review to determine this is the least visually obtrusive pole within 400 feet

- Reduce the setback to 10 feet if there is no other pole available within 800 feet that meets a 30 foot setback.

The new ZTA also narrows the criteria for what the hearing examiner reviews to determine compatibility and removes oral appeal to Board of Appeals of Hearing Examiner’s decision. According to the County’s ZTA information website, “This is needed to help County meet federal shot clock and prevent preemptory zoning approvals under federal law (deemed granted).” However, the decision can still be appealed to Circuit Court.

Other changes and clarifications include an increase in the size of the equipment from 12 cubic feet to 20 cubic feet for equipment in the pole base. It will also change the way the setbacks are measured from poles to houses or buildings to exclude porches and similar setback encroachments. It also states that the antenna will not count toward building height.

According to the County website, “Under federal law, County law may not prohibit provision of a telecommunications service. While there are many ways to receive such services, there are some carriers that only provide telecommunications service wirelessly. The County cannot prohibit one means to get service because there is another alternative means or carrier available. Prohibiting deployment of any antennas in a residential neighborhood may have the unintentional effect of prohibiting the provision of service.”

“In addition, the County has an interest in ensuring that all residents have access to robust, affordable broadband service. In the past two years, mobile telephone line subscriptions have increased by over 65,000 lines and there are now more than 1 million mobile telephone lines in the County.”

The County’s Transmission Facilities Coordination Group Website has much more information about the changes and proposals for small cell antennas and an interactive map of proposed locations and carriers in Germantown and the entire County.

A public hearing will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 7:30 pm in the third-floor hearing room of the Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. Persons wanting to testify at the meeting must sign up by Tuesday, Sept. 11. To sign up to testify at the TFCG website.

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