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Transmission Facilities Coordination Group

ZTA Information

The County Executive has transmitted a Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) for the County Council’s consideration, to amend the zoning code governing placement of telecommunications towers and “small cell” antennas. It is anticipated that the ZTA will be introduced by the County Council in February 2018, and that a public hearing will be scheduled in March or April 2018. Formal public comments on the ZTA will be permitted through the County Council process after a public hearing is scheduled.

In the mid-1990’s, the County Council revised the County zoning code to address deployment of “macrocells” – large antennas placed on rooftops and 100+ foot towers, that supported cellular telephone service, and later 3G, 4G and LTE mobile communications services. The purpose of the 2018 Proposed ZTA is to update the County’s zoning code to address industry requests to deploy “small cells” – smaller antennas placed 20 to 35 feet above ground, that help alleviate network congestions in current communications services and that will support upcoming 5G services. As before, the goals in updating the zoning code are to protect the community’s interest in managing commercial use of public property, maintain attractive roads and neighborhoods, ensure appropriate public input, support access to robust mobile broadband services for residents and businesses, and to ensure the County’s continued compliance with federal law and FCC regulations regarding wireless communications deployments.

Click here for the County Executive's February 2, 2018 small cell ZTA transmittal to the County Council.

Summary of 2018 Proposed ZTA Zoning Changes

The Proposed ZTA 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:

  • Allow more antennas in the Commercial/Residential, Employment and Industrial zones by allowing pole replacements as Limited Uses (i.e., no additional zoning hearing would be required) in these zones. Pre-existing 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, so long as the pre-existing pole is 10 feet from a structure and painted the same color as the pre-existing pole.
  • 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. The Proposed ZTA makes a technical correction so that antennas may be collocated on 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 Residential Multi-Unit, Commercial/Residential, Employment and Industrial zones.
  • Retains the current prohibition to attaching antennas on detached houses and duplexes, and extends the prohibition to attaching on townhouses as well.
  • 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 the design of such antennas and streetlight poles – 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.

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)

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