Skip to main content

Transmission Facilities Coordination Group

ZTA Information

The County Executive provided a Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) in February 2018 for the County Council’s consideration. ZTA 18-02 would amend the zoning code to allow more deployment of small cell antennas in commercial areas as replacements for existing streetlights, utility, and parking lot light poles. ZTA 18-02 would allow antennas to be placed on utility poles located 20 from dwellings in residential areas and 10 feet from structures in commercial areas. A public hearing was held April 3, 2018, and a Council PHED (Planning, Housing, and Economic Development) Committee worksession is scheduled for May 3, 2018 at 1:55 pm.

In the Maryland General Assembly 2018, SB1188 and HB1767 were introduced to preempt public imput and the County’s authority to requiring zoning of small cell deployments on poles up to 50 feet tall in residential areas, in public rights-of-way, and on County property. The County Executive opposed these bills and no further action was taken on the bills during the 2018 legislative session. More information can be found here .

Summary of 2018 ZTA 18-02 Zoning Changes

ZTA 18-02 would allow more antennas in commercial and urban areas, on lower height building rooftops, and utility poles. The proposed ZTA does not make any changes to use of street lights in residential areas or in areas with underground utilities. The proposed ZTA would:

  • Make no changes for replacement of streetlights and utility poles in residential areas. Streetlights and some utility poles must be replaced with taller stronger poles to support small cell antennas. This requires Conditional Use approval from the Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings (OZAH). A Conditional Use requires a public hearing to which people living approximately 1/4 mile from a planned new small cell site could testify. Testimony addressing whether the new antenna is compatible with community use, aesthetics, and location can be considered. Concerns about the health effects of RF emission (see below), cannot be considered. The OZAH hearing examiner will also rely on an engineering recommendation from the Transmission Facilities Coordinating Committee (TFCG). If the hearing examiner recommends installation of a new or replacement streetlight or utility pole to support wireless antennas in a residential area, a right-of-way permit from DPS would also be required. ZTA 18-02 make no change to this process.

  • Allow more antennas in the Commercial/Residential, Employment and Industrial zones. ZTA would change the process to replace street, utility, and parking lot light poles to support small cell wireless antennas in commercial areas from a Conditional Use to Limited Use. Under the current zoning code, Conditional Uses are not allowed in Commercial/Residential zones like downtown Silver Spring and Bethesda, and this limits deployment of more antennas in urban areas that have the most wireless use. ZTA 18-02 would make replacement of these pole a Limited Use. (New towers can be installed as Limited Use in Industrial and most Employment zones under the current zoning code.) As a Limited Use, to replace pre-existing street, utility, and parking lot light poles in these commercial areas with poles that can support wireless antennas, an applicant must receive a TFCG engineering recommendation, and a DPS right-of-way permit. An OZAH public hearing is not required. ZTA 18-02 impose certain conditions, such as color, placement, and height and size limits. Streetlights could be replaced with new poles 6 feet taller, and utility and parking lot light poles could be replaced with new poles that are 10 feet taller, and the pre-existing pole must be at least 10 feet from a structure.

  • Allow antennas to be deployed on more building rooftops. Currently, antennas may be deployed as a Limited Use on buildings that are a minimum height of 50 feet in Residential Detached zones, and 30 feet in Residential Multi-Unit, Commercial/Residential, Employment and Industrial zones. The Proposed ZTA would lower the minimum height to 35 feet in all residential zones, and to 20 feet in Residential Multi-Unit, Commercial/Residential, Employment and Industrial zones.

  • Allow antennas on utility poles. The County’s zoning code allows antennas to be collocated on utility poles as a Limited Use. In 2014, the County Council amended the zoning code to allow small cell antennas no larger than 3 feet x 2 feet to be attached to any structure located at least 60 feet from homes. At the time, small cell attachments to buildings were anticipated, not small cell attachments to poles. There is no set back from houses when attaching larger antennas to utility poles. ZTA 18-02 would amend the zoning code so that that antennas 4 feet long and no more than 6 cubic feet in volume could be attached to pre-existing utility poles in the right-of-way if the utility pole is 20 feet from a dwelling in residential zones, and 10 feet from any structure in the commercial area (Residential Multi-Unit, Commercial/Residential, Employment and Industrial zones).

  • No antennas on townhouses. ZTA 18-02 retains the current prohibition to attaching antennas on detached houses and duplexes, and extends the prohibition to attaching on townhouses as well.

  • Retains the current prohibition to attaching antennas on detached houses and duplexes, and extends the prohibition to attaching on townhouses as well.

  • Create volumetric antenna size limits. Replaces antenna size limits, removing technology-specific references (such as “whip” or “panel” antennas, and instead using technology-neutral maximum length and volume size limits.

Unlike previous drafts, the Proposed ZTA does not make changes to address replacement of streetlights in residential areas or in areas with underground utilities. The County Executive is going to seek more input – particularly about design of such antennas and streetlight poles, and a process to hold an OZAH hearing and still meet federally mandated time limits to review wireless siting applications – and propose changes in residential areas at a later date.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Additional Small Cell Antenna Information

The County Council’s Small Cell information page can be found here. The County Council provided responses to small cell Frequently Asked Questions in October 2016, which can be found here. Links to other documents and videos are provided below.

Maryland Small Cell Legislation:

In 2018, SB1188 and HB1767 were introduced in the Maryland General Assembly to preempt prevent public input and limit local government authority over deployment of small cell poles and antennas. The bills would have required Maryland communities to allow poles 50 feet tall with 28 cubic feet of equipment in residential areas, in public rights-of-way, and on County property. The bills would have also required below-cost permits for small cells and required the County allow small cells on public property almost rent-free. The County Executive opposed these bills and planned to testify against them. A planned March 20, 2018 public hearing in Annapolis was canceled and the 2018 Maryland legislative session ended without further action on the bills. More information can be found here.

Previous Draft ZTAs, Fact Sheets, and FAQs:

Small Cell Public Meeting Coverage and Presentations

Database, Map and Zoning Ordinance

Radio Frequency (RF) Emissions

Many residents have expressed concern about the health effects of radio frequency (RF) emissions.  Under federal law, the County may not “regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the [FCC’s] regulations concerning such emissions.”  In other words, the County may enforce and require compliance with FCC regulations, but not create additional requirements. That said, the County and other local elected officials have taken steps to lobby the FCC to do more to address residents’ concerns about RF emissions:

  • Summary of the May 2017 County Executive and Council and Congressional Delegation meeting with the FCC – click here
  • Congressman Delaney’s February 2017 small cell antenna letter to the FCC – click here
  • County Executive January 2017 letter to FCC requesting the FCC complete its 2013 proceeding on the health effects of RF emissions – click here
  • Montgomery County vs FCC 4th Circuit decision denying the County’s appeal of the FCC’s wireless facilities minor modification (Section 6409) Order – click here
  • Montgomery County 2017 response to FCC Mobilitie Petition – click here for Comments and Reply Comments
  • Montgomery County Joint Smart Communities Siting Coalition response to FCC Mobilitie Petition – click here for Comments and Reply Comments
  • GAO July 2012 Report – Telecommunications Exposure and Testing Requirements for Mobile Phones Should be Reassessed – click here

Video Summary of Residents' Concerns About RF Emissions (October 26, 2016 Video Excerpts)

Video of Public Hearing for Zoning Text Amendment 18-02

Navigation

 
Go Top