A: A 1995 task force report recommended the creation of a Tower Coordinator position within the Executive Branch and the designation of a person within each land-owning and land use agency to work with the Tower Coordinator.
In response to the taskforce report, the County Council adopted a Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA 95028) to regulate installation of telecommunications facilities in the County to the extend permitted by federal law. The legislation provided that the placement of antennas and towers would be encouraged at less intrusive sites, including industrial and commercial lands, existing buildings, water towers, power transmission poles, and certain public lands. Co-location of these kind of facilities is required to minimize the negative impact on residential areas and to diminish the multiplicity of towers. Another goal of the process is to assist industry by ensuring a timely review of applications and by providing a reliable process among agencies. For the industry, a speedy and reliable process is in place. Applications for antenna sites that are allowed as a matter of right by the zoning ordinance are typically approved within thirty days. Applications involving sites that require a special exception for construction of a new tower or monopole are evaluated more closely and often take somewhat longer to receive a recommendation.
The County Executive proposed and the County Council also adopted an Executive Regulation (#14-96) which provides for the appointment of the Tower Coordinator to serve as the primary point of contact for industry representatives and the creation of the Telecommunications Transmission Facilities Coordinating Group (Tower Committee) to review tower site applications and make site recommendations.
The TFCG and the Tower Coordinator actively engage member County government agencies to recommend the most appropriate sites for new towers and monopoles by evaluating requests filed with the TFCG.Â Of course, the ultimate decision-making authority would remain with each agency. The TFCG facilitates communications between the member agencies and the carriers to achieve the desired goals of the process.
The TFCG include members from land owning agencies including the Department of Transportation and Public Works, the Montgomery County Public Schools, the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission, and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission; from land use agencies, such as the Department of Permitting Services; and the other parties involved in telecommunications services for the County, the Office of Cable Communications Administration, and the Office of Management and Budget, and of course, the Department of Technology Services, which has authority for administration of the TFCG.
A: Applications for siting of telecommunications facilities are submitted to the Tower Coordinator who conducts a review to ensure that they are complete. The review includes:
Verification with the County's Department of Permitting Services of the zoning of the site for each application to determine whether the proposed facilities are permitted "by right" or requires a special exception.
Checking applications for new monopoles against a database of all existing telecommunications facilities to determine whether an alternative site exists that could meet the applicant's needs.
Maintaining a database of existing wireless telecommunications facilities in the county. The database is updated monthly with new application information and annually with information submitted by the telecommunications service providers about all their sites.
Conducting an engineering review to determine if new structures are needed and if there are any radio frequency conflicts with other existing facilities, compliance with transmission regulations, or other technical issues for the TFCG to consider is its review of the applications.
Providing a recommendation on each siting request to the Tower Committee regarding the zoning standards applicable to the application, Co-locationÂ options, and the effect of the placement of the facility on land-owing agencies, future telecommunications plans, and its impact on the surrounding area.
Provide information to carriers, the public, land owning public agencies, and land use agencies.
A: The TFCG meetings provide a forum for members to discuss siting issues, review and comment on telecommunications transmission facility policies of various agencies, and facilitate communications between member agencies and between government officials and the industry. The Committee also stays current on federal legislation and FCC rulemakings which affect tower siting and issues such as federal rules concerning RF emissions. One of the added benefits of the Committee is that each participating agency now has a person with extensive knowledge about the telecommunications industry's needs and the appropriate involvement for local government.
At each meeting, the Tower Coordinator will present a review of an application and make a recommendation for action to the TFCG. The TFCG discusses the application and then decides the appropriate action to take in each case. The meetings typically last one to two hours. The meetings are open to the public, but these meetings are not the proper place for formal public testimony or submission of materials regarding an application.
The TFCG votes on whether to "recommend" or "not recommend" an application allow the applicant to move forward to the next step in the process of constructing its facilities. The applicant will either applying for a building permit to the County's Department of Permitting Services (DPS), or, if necessary, apply to the Board of Appeals (BOA) for Special Exception or Modification of Special Exception, or is referred to the Maryland National Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) for a review under the County's Mandatory Referral process. The TFCG does not have "approval" authority, per se. However, the DPS, the BOA, and the M-NCPPC verify that the applicant has been through the TFCG process and those agencies take the recommendation made by the TFCG on each application into consideration as they perform their formal publicÂ approval process.
A: The County's Zoning Ordinance allows certain types of construction to take place as a matter of right, requiring only that a building permit be issued by the Department of Permitting Services prior to the start of construction. Other types of construction are allowed only if a Special Exception is granted by the Board of Appeals after review by the Planning Board.
Installation of telecommunications facilities are encouraged at less intrusive sites, including industrial and commercial lands, existing buildings, water towers, power transmission poles, and certain public lands. Wherever reasonably possible, Co-location of telecommunications facilities is required to minimize the negative impact on residential areas and to diminish the multiplicity of towers. Telecommunications facilities are permitted as follows:
Industrial zones - Monopoles are allowed as a matter of right up to 199 feet in height, with a setback from the property lines of all adjacent residential and agricultural zoned properties of at least one foot for every foot of height.
Agricultural zones - Monopoles are allowed as a matter of right if they do not exceed the allowed building height of the zone and meet a 1:1 setback from the property line, or if located within the right-of-way of an overhead transmission line not closer than 300 feet to any residence with a monopole height not in excess of 199'. In all other cases a special exception would be required.
Commercial zones - Monopoles are allowed as a matter of right up to 150' in height with a setback of 1:1 from all adjacent residential and agricultural zoned properties. In certain specified zones a special exception would be required.
Rooftop Antenna - Monopoles are allowed as a matter of right on any building that is 30' or greater in height in industrial, commercial or multi-family zones, and on any non-residential building that is greater than 50' in height in single-family residential zones.
Residential Zones - Except for the above, the Zoning Text Amendment did not change existing controls in residential zones; a special exception is still required in most instances.Â The filing fee for a special exception is high compared to that of a building permit, and there is a minimum period of 60 days between the submittal date of an application and the date of the Board hearing to allow adequate time for public review and comment.Â Carriers tend to view new sites requiring a special exception as a last resort because of the cost and the time delay.
Public Land - Private telecommunications antennas may be attached as a matter of right to an existing structure owned or operated by a county, bi-county, state or federal agency. If a carrier wishes to construct a new privately owned tower or monopole for the exclusive use of private telecommunications carriers on publicly owned land, a special exception is required. If the new tower or monopole will be used by a government agency, the application is submitted to the Planning Board rather than the Board of Appeals and the application goes through a public review process known as Mandatory Referral. Since this process is shorter (60 days maximum) and less costly than the special exception process, there is an incentive for applicants to work with government agencies to identify compatible uses with the government for facilities on public lands.
A: In reviewing applications, the TFCG considers whether or not the applicant has sufficiently demonstrated need for a new facility and that there are no other existing structures already in place in the community which could reasonably accommodate the applicant's antennas. Examples of existing structures which may be able to support telecommunications antennas include power company transmission line towers, existing tall buildings, church steeples, water tanks, existing lattice towers, monopoles, and in some cases, public utility poles. Selection of locations for siting telecommunications antenna facilities are generally the result of the carrier's own market analysis, the area desired to be covered, the terrain of the area to be served, the elevation of the antennas, the strength of the antenna signals, and in some cases, the capacity of existing facilities to provide continued coverage in a given area. In some cases antenna facilities can be made to blend is with the surrounding environment by "disguising" them as, for example, flagpoles, ball field lights, or even artificial trees.
A: Below is an excerpt from the Telecom Act of 1996 (§704(a) National Wireless Telecommunications Siting Policy) which states the extent to which local authorities are prevented from regulating telecommunications facilities:
Section 332(c) (47 U.S.C. 332(c)) is amended by adding at the end the following new paragraph:
(7) PRESERVATION OF LOCAL ZONING AUTHORITY-
(A) GENERAL AUTHORITY- Except as provided in this paragraph, nothing in this Act shall limit or affect the authority of a State or local government or instrumentality thereof over decisions regarding the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities.
(i) The regulation of the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities by any State or local government or instrumentality thereof--
(I) shall not unreasonably discriminate among providers of functionally equivalent services; and
(II) shall not prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the provision of personal wireless services.
(ii) A State or local government or instrumentality thereof shall act on any request for authorization to place, construct, or modify personal wireless service facilities within a reasonable period of time after the request is duly filed with such government or instrumentality, taking into account the nature and scope of such request.
(iii) Any decision by a State or local government or instrumentality thereof to deny a request to place, construct, or modify personal wireless service facilities shall be in writing and supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record.
(iv) No State or local government or instrumentality thereof may 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 Commission's regulations concerning such emissions.
(v) Any person adversely affected by any final action or failure to act by a State or local government or any instrumentality thereof that is inconsistent with this subparagraph may, within 30 days after such action or failure to act, commence an action in any court of competent jurisdiction. The court shall hear and decide such action on an expedited basis. Any person adversely affected by an act or failure to act by a State or local government or any instrumentality thereof that is inconsistent with clause (iv) may petition the Commission for relief.
(C) DEFINITIONS- For purposes of this paragraph--
(i) the term `personal wireless services' means commercial mobile services, unlicensed wireless services, and common carrier wireless exchange access services;
(iii) the term `unlicensed wireless service' means the offering of telecommunications services using duly authorized devices which do not require individual licenses, but does not mean the provision of direct-to-home satellite services (as defined in section 303(v)).'.
(ii) the term `personal wireless service facilities' means facilities for the provision of personal wireless services; and
(iii) the term `unlicensed wireless service' means the offering of telecommunications services using duly authorized devices which do not require individual licenses, but does not mean the provision of direct-to-home satellite services (as defined in section 303(v).
A: The TFCG is not the official body to receive public testimony regarding placement of telecommunications facilities in the County. If not otherwise permitted by County zoning regulations, a new telecommunications facility either goes through the Special Exception process or the Mandatory Referral process. The Special Exception process falls under the jurisdiction of the Montgomery County Board of Appeals, where each application is scheduled on the agenda for the Board to review. Special Exceptions require a formal, publicized, public hearing which is the proper forum for public input about the proposed facility. Siting of telecommunications facilities which are subject to the Mandatory Referral process are scheduled for review by the Maryland National Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) at one of its regularly scheduled sessions. The Mandatory Referral sessions are not advertised but are open to the public and interested parties are permitted to provide testimony.
To obtain schedules and agendas for the Board of Appeals, please contact the Montgomery County Board of Appeals office at 240-777-6600. For sessions at the M-NCPPC, you may obtain meeting and agenda information on their website www.mncppc.org.
A. For questions about the TFCG or current issues being discussed at TFCG meetings, please call Marjorie Williams at 240-777-3762.