County Council Passes ZTA to Facilitate 5G Cell Antennas

The County Council yesterday approved a zoning text amendment intended to facilitate deployment of small-cell antennas to provide 5G wireless technology.

Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 19-07, Telecommunications Towers – Limited Use, would allow antennas on utility and light poles that would offer 5G’s faster speeds, enhanced reliability and greater capacity for wireless users.

“Most of us don’t think much about how our cell phone works. We just expect it to work and to work well,” Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At Large), who sponsored the ZTA, said in a press release. “That’s what this zoning change is all about—modernizing our rules to allow improved 4G and 5G coverage in our County. But it’s also about saying ‘yes’ to the exciting innovations in wireless technology so that our residents stand to benefit from its game-changing improvements in telehealth, teleworking, transportation, public safety, education, and much more.”

Reimer was also one of the sponsors of the original ZTA in 2019. Yesterday’s vote was 7-2 with Councilmembers Sidney Katz and Will Jawando voting against the ZTA, citing a pending federal court case that could force the Federal Communications Commission to reexamine a 25-year-old policy concerning the safety of cell phone technologies.

“ZTA 19-07 addresses two additional issues related to small cell antennas that impact County residents. The first is to remove existing barriers to deployment to benefit Montgomery County residents,” according to the press release. “The second is to bring the county up to current standards in compliance with federal regulations, specifically with the [FCC] small cell order. The county’s current regulations for small cell antennas in the agricultural, rural residential and residential zones likely do not comply with the FCC’s small cell order or existing federal law.”

Among other provisions, the ZTA would allow antennas on existing poles under certain conditions, creates requirements for new or replacement poles to be at least 30 feet from the nearest habitable building (with conditions for screening and design as well as height restrictions), and creates a waiver and objection process for certain types and placements of new poles, with a required public hearing if an objection is filed.

The county also created a page of Frequently Asked Questions on the ZTA and cell antennas.

“Small-Cell Cellular Antennas at Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis” by Tony Webster is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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