Small Cell Towers to be Allowed Under Proposed Zoning Amendment

Small cell towers for next-generation wireless service would be allowed no closer than 30 feet from a residence or other habitable building under the terms of a proposed zoning text amendment.

The ZTA, sponsored by Councilmembers Hans Riemer, Gabe Albornoz (both D-At Large) and Craig Rice (D-District 2), was introduced Tuesday, Oct. 1. It will allow the deployment of new wireless infrastructure that will offer faster speeds, enhanced reliability and much greater capacity, according to a press release

“The next generation of wireless technology will be profoundly more powerful than what we all use today,” said Riemer in the release. “The opportunities for innovation and advancement in health care, education, transportation, agriculture, entertainment and many other sectors cannot be understated I want Montgomery County residents and businesses to have access to next-generation wireless technology, but the county’s current zoning code effectively prohibits this technology in residential areas. This zoning change will fix that by enabling the deployment essential to supporting our tech devices both at home and in the workplace.”

The new technologies rely on waves that carry more information, but don’t travel as far as current networks. For that reason, antennas will need to be set closer to wireless devices.

According to the release, ZTA 19-07 does the following (emphasis in the original): 

  • Allows wireless facilities on poles in the public right-of-way by “limited use” when those antennas are set back at least 60 feet from the nearest building,plus numerous other screening, color, and size/height conditions.
  • Allows wireless facilities on poles in the public right-of-way by “conditional use” when those antennas are between 30-60 feet from the nearest building,plus numerous other screening, color, and size/height conditions
  • Does not allow antennas on poles that are closer than 30 feetto the nearest building.
  • Revises the conditional use process to comply with federal law by affixing deadlines to all steps in the process to meet federal shot clocks
  • Requires that the hearing examiner’s inquiry must determine the least visually obstructive location when ensuring provision of service
  • Allows the batching of applications, and
  • Direct that appeals of the hearing examiner’s decisions go straight to the Circuit Court.

According to Riemer, “This new zoning measure also aims to disrupt efforts in the Maryland General Assembly and at the Federal Communications Commission to remove the county’s authority to control how these facilities are deployed.”

A public hearing on the ZTA will be scheduled in the future.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.