ROCKVILLE – The Montgomery County Council introduced a bill this week that would allow cellphone towers to be installed without a public hearing.
Representatives from telecommunications companies said the bill will expedite the process of upgrading their data and other mobile services to cell phones users.
“I don’t even know what a Pokémon Go is, but I know it’s placing tremendous demands on the wireless networks,” said Edward Donohue, a lawyer representing telecommunications company Crown Castle.
At the public hearing for Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 16-03 Tuesday night, some residents objected to the bill, saying it would remove their ability to appeal the placing of cellphone towers by their homes.
The proposed cell phone towers are antennas that would be placed on existing telephone poles or a pole no larger than 30 feet and be at least 300 feet away from a residence.
Some attendees argued the County needs to extend cellphone coverage as residents cut the cord on their landlines.
Donahue urged the Council to pass ZTA 16-03 in order improve the data network in the County as more people use their cellphones for internet service.
The County’s zoning ordinance required county officials to seek a conditional use approval from the Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings for every new pole.
Some residents object to the bill because it would repeal the County’s oversight requirement to seek approval to build new poles.
“It is critical that there be a mechanism for citizens to articulate their concerns before the installation,” said Bethesda resident Florence Kao. “Surely the County does not expect affected property owners and their families to simply live with adverse effects without exercising their right to due process.”
If the new antennas cannot fit onto existing telephone poles, County officials may authorize the installation of a new pole or tower that will be eight inches in diameter, made of metal and less than 30 feet tall.
The bill’s lead author, Council President Nancy Floreen (D-At large) said her office received 170 applications for the new antennas and the bill expedites the process.
“This increasing use of mobile apps and services that touch nearly every part of our daily lives has led to a explosion in wireless data usage,” said LaTara Harris, regional director of external and legislative affairs for AT&T. “From January 2007 to December 2015 wireless data use increased 150,000 percent on AT&T’s network.”
To deal with the increased data use, Harris said AT&T is adding small cell antennas that will help improve data and voice services.
Some County residents fear the new cell towers would be aesthetically unpleasing or cause adverse health effects.
While County law permits cell towers, residents can appeal before they are installed. If passed, ZTA 16-06 would take away the appeal process to speed up installation.
“Overall, ZTA 16-05 is bad legislation. It diminishes protections to County residents, their properties and their rights to due process,” said local resident Sue Present.
A committee work session for ZTA 16-05 is schedule for Sept. 12.