Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

County Executive Ike Leggett has released a draft zoning text amendment to regulate the deployment of small cell antennas for wireless service in the county.

Leggett has scheduled a public meeting to get input on this proposal before sending legislation to the County Council. The meeting will be held Monday, Oct. 23 from 7-9 p.m. in the Stella B. Werner Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Ave., 3rd Floor Hearing Room in Rockville.

Because of the increasing demand for wireless capacity, the county is receiving applications for these antennas at an unprecedented level. According to a county map, there are eight applications pending in the Source’s coverage area alone; all but one were submitted by T-Mobile.

Federal law limits what local jurisdictions can do to control the placement and installation of these antennas, prohibiting any action that would have the effect of denying service in the county.

In addition, the county must act on an application within a specific time period, usually 60 days. The Federal Communications Commission is considering additional regulations that would further restrict local jurisdictions’ ability to control when and where towers are installed.

According to a press release, “the proposed ZTA is intended to allow providers to provide service while protecting the character of both our residential neighborhoods and commercial areas by regulating how and where these antennas can be placed, and how they should be screened or camouflaged.”

Among other things, the ZTA would, according to the county’s web page on this issue:

  • Allow pole replacements in downtown areas, such as Silver Spring and Bethesda, and on lower height commercial retail buildings, to provide alternatives to more residential deployments.
  • Retain the current prohibition on attaching antennas on detach houses and duplexes, and extend the prohibition to attaching on townhouses as well.

The ZTA would lower the minimum height for installations on buildings to 35 feet in residential areas, and 15‐20 feet in commercial areas, as well as regulating the height of replacements for pre-existing streetlight poles.

A summary of the draft ZTA is online, as is the full text of the proposal. Public comments can also be submitted at https://mocotfcg.blogspot.com/p/home.html or by email to [email protected].

Mike Diegel