A bill to allow telecommunication companies to extend cell phone coverage is angering some local residents who want a public hearing.
Zoning Text Amendment 16-05, sponsored by Montgomery County Council President Nancy Floreen (D-At large) would change the zoning laws.
Telecommunication companies would be allowed to install small antennas on utility improve cell phone coverage.
County residents objected to the bill because it would allow the telecommunication companies to install the antennas without a public hearing.
“It undercuts the participation of interested members of the public in a dialogue on where the thing ought to go or shouldn’t go,” said Derwood resident Jeff Reznick.
Though a hearing for the bill is scheduled for July 19, if passed, the telecommunication companies could install the antennas without input from the public.
Under the current zoning ordinance, the County’s Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings handles conditional use permits for every new utility pole.
Jeff Zyonst, legislative analyst for the Council, said the new utility poles, which are referred to as telecommunication towers under County law, will be eight inches in diameter, no greater than 30 feet tall and be made out of metal. While some residents have suggested that the antennas should go on existing street lamps, Zyonst said street lamps are too small to hold the antennas.
Reznick, who started an online petition against the bill, said cutting out input from County residents undermines their ability to control development in their community.
“If there is no public hearing, then the County can put this anywhere they want,” Reznick said.
Derwood resident Vladimir Salita agreed, saying he thinks it’s unfair for the County to install new utility
“Everything that comes from the government should have a public hearing,” Salita said.
Floreen said her staff received 170 applications to install new cell phone antennas, and her proposed change to the zoning ordinance will help expedite the process.
“It’s a reality that we face that there are a lot of applications for these new devices and the question is how best to deal with them so this is an idea,” Floreen said. “Maybe we will come up with something else. I don’t know.”
In a memo to the Council, Zyontz said a growing number of residents are choosing to use cell phones over landlines and the change in the zoning ordinance will allow telecommunication companies to meet the demand of their customers.
Some residents also expressed concern that adding more cell phone antennas could detract from the aesthetic appearance of their neighborhoods.
They also said they were concerned about whether cell phone radiation can harm human health.
“Well, they are on their cell phones when they raise those issues often times and we’ll certainly ask about that,” said Floreen.
For Reznick, the process the council is using to consider the issue is his main problem.
“An elected official should be encouraging conversation about the growth of the community,” he said.