ROCKVILLE — The Montgomery County Council Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee discussed Monday a proposed bill to allow telecommunication companies to install cell phone antennas on towers without a public hearing.
Under zoning law, all telephone towers must undergo a public appeal process.
However, Council President Nancy Floreen (D-At large) proposed in Zoning Text Amendment 16-05 to exempt telecommunication poles 30 feet or lower from public hearings.
At the meeting, the PHED committee decided not to vote or provide a recommendation for the proposed bill.
AT&T, Sprint and Verizon officials are asking the council to install antennas on telephone poles to meet the increased demand for data on smartphones, tablets and other wireless devices.
The small cell antennas can fit onto small poles but cannot fit onto many street poles and streetlights.
“It allows them to do voice, data, pictures, movies, whatever at much faster speeds,” said Jeff Zyontz, a senior legislative analyst with the council.
Officials from Crown Castle, the company some of the telecommunication companies hired to build the poles, said they want to install 120 small cell antennas throughout the county, 40 of which work crew can place on existing poles.
Applications for telecommunications towers must be approved by the county’s tower committee, which was founded to review much large cell phone tower up to 200 feet tall.
Some residents object to the proposed zoning text amendment because they would not be able appeal a new telecommunications pole for aesthetic reasons and fear of the health effects from wireless radiation.
“What I would suggest is that somehow, this ZTA needs a little more work and we need to identify, if we can, some responsible community voice and take up and address what real issues community members have,” said Council member George Leventhal (D-At large).
When Leventhal said he did not want the PHED committee to vote on ZTA 16-05, a mostly full council hearing room applauded.
While Leventhal said he thinks the proposed ZTA needs to be improved, he disagreed with accusations that the council was acting without full transparency.
“Nothing about this discussion has been covert or secret,” Leventhal said.
There are three basic categories in which the new small cell antennas could fall into under zoning laws:
- Place the small cell antennas on existing poles, which can be done without a hearing under current law.
- Replace or reinforce street light poles to told the small cell antennas, which under current County law would require a public hearing to do.
- Build new poles.
ZTA 16-05 remove the public hearing requirement for new or reinforced street light poles or poles specifically built to hold the small cell antennas.
Crown Castle officials said they filed 95 of 120 planned antennas applications, 40 of which could be installed without a hearing and 80 of which would require a public hearing before they could be approved.
“The question is, should we have different standards for those three things,” said Floreen.
The PHED committee will take up ZTA 16-05 again on a later date.
Leventhal said he wants to work with residents to come a compromise on the bill.
“I would also appeal to community members. We can’t negotiate compromise with every single person that sends us an email,” Leventhal said. “So if there is some methodology where residents can or neighborhood associations in affected communities can appoint spokespeople to work with us that would be helpful.”