Welcome to the TFCG Community Forum. Residents are encouraged to share their ideas, concerns, insights and questions by commenting on posted topics. We are usually able to respond to concerns and questions within five to ten business days.

Draft Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) and summary released.  ZTA would amend zoning rules related to deployment of smaller antennas on street light poles and lower height buildings.  

Click here for full draft ZTA and click here for summary.  

Public comments and letters may be sent to AntennaZTA@montgomerycountymd.gov .  You can also comment at the bottom of any page or post on this site.  A public meeting will be held in September 2017.   


  1. There is zero community interest in having cell towers in residential areas.

    This ZTA fails in one key area - safety. Not of wireless radiation but of the poles themselves. Currently streetlights are designed to "break away" when hit by a car. This is good because the light itself is not so heavy and the pole not so tall (typically 15 feet). When a teenager loses control of their vehicle, and hits an existing street pole, it is designed to save their life by falling down.

    What is lost in all the numbers of max heights and distances in this proposed Zoning-Text-Amendment is that these new poles will be much higher than 15 feet (often 30 feet) and the weight at the top is typically 300 pounds. These new poles will be designed to "stand their ground" when hit by a car. That's because if they were to fall they would hit a house and cause other damage. In a very real sense the new poles will be designed to kill our teenage drivers who hit these poles.

    If the technology is not small enough to use existing 15 foot poles that are designed to breakaway, then the technology is not ready. If the technology is not compact enough to limit heat and fan noise, then it is not ready. We should not create legislation that diminishes our safety just because the wireless industry is anxious. The FCC cannot fault us for wanting safe structures built.

    First, if this ZTA does not change its language to mandate that all poles maintain their ability to break away and stay 15 feet tall then it has failed to protect the interests of the people it claims to serve.

    Second, I see nothing here about giving priority for installing this new flavor of Internet service in places that need it. Places lacking fiber Internet could use an alternative and they should be given priority. The locations that are currently proposed for the new wireless residential towers already have fiber optic Internet.

    Third, there should always be a hearing. This ZTA does away with notifying citizens of a new cell tower constructed in front of their bedroom window. That's not right. There should always be a hearing and notice. If we have to give notice and a hearing when we erect a fence on our own property then likewise every cell tower should have a proper hearing.

    Fourth, as part of this ZTA we must mandate that wireless providers give us an app with a big red button to push to "disable" connection to their poles in our residential neighborhoods. We should be able to choose what we connect to and what we don't. If they have to give us this flexibility maybe they'll realize it's not as lucrative as they originally perceived.

  2. I am very concerned about two things:

    1. Ike Leggett has joined elected officials such as Congressman Delaney to urge the FCC to update its 20-year-old safety tests. RF radiation is clearly a health threat — it's on the World Health Org's list of Class 2b Carcinogens and hundreds of scientists and engineers say it causes everything from sleeplessness, nausea and dizziness to DNA damage. That's a fact. Why hasn't the ZTA acknowledged this concern (it is too often said that municipalities cannot decline cell tower applications based on health concerns, but this is not entirely correct. You can, as a municipality, urge the FCC (as Mr. Leggett and Delaney have done) to update the standards and include children in that equation.

    2. I would like to see language in the ZTA that precludes cell towers from being deployed near "sensitive areas" such as schools, daycare centers and nursing homes. These populations are more vulnerable: children have thinner bone density (i.e. skulls) to penetrate, elderly have weaker defense systems. Many other muncipalities around the nation have included set back requirements from such "sensitive areas." Please do the same.

    Thank you.

  3. This zoning amendment is streamlining small cell antennas into neighborhoods by removing the ability of homeowners and residents to be a part of the decision making. In California there is a Bill that is similar to this zoning amendment and many many organizations are voicing strong opposition.

    Through an exemption in the bill, California legislators accept the need to protect the health of firefighters, some of whom have measurable brain abnormalities following years of exposure to cell towers near their stations.

    You can read their letters at this link. https://ehtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/5G-Small-Cell-Letters-Science-Policy-67-page-pdf-.pdf

    The community should have a say in a decision to place a mini cell in front of their home.

  4. I wholeheartedly OPPOSE having cell towers atop poles in residential neighborhoods. There is ample evidence that living in close proximity to cell towers has adverse health outcomes for citizens, particularly children. This is an ill advised, ill considered idea and trying to push this through without a hearing is against the spirit of community stewardship that we are counting on our elected officials to adhere to.

    Megan Montgomery

  5. Please reject this proposal to let small cell towers be fast tracked through zoning approvals. Letting cell companies add to poles is one more way of letting private companies with questionable histories take advantage of the common good. I also agree with all of the concerns above.

  6. I am completely against having these cell towers in my neighborhood. I moved from my last home so that I would not be so close to a cell tower. Research has demonstrated that there can be ill effects from nonionizing radiation. With the rapid proliferation of this in our communities, it is becoming harder and harder to minimize exposure. I think that this technology is being implemented without a full understanding of the potential for ill effects.

  7. I strongly oppose this. I don't believe that the health effects of wireless radiation have been studied enough. Many scientists and doctors recommend a moratorium on the roll-out of the fifth generation, 5G, for telecommunication until potential hazards for human health and the environment have been fully investigated by scientists independent from industry.

  8. I would rather have more, smaller cells than fewer, larger cells. Many parts of the county, particularly residential neighborhoods and crowded downtown districts, have poor coverage or insufficient network capacity. As mobile device usage grows, and the demands of users with increasingly sophisticated devices, we will need more small cells to achieve a satisfactory quality of service.

    The health concerns are overblown, as the frequencies and effective intensity of the RF is relatively harmless in comparison to other sources which residents are less concerned about.

    1. Who is posting this? I suggest stating your name. This radiation is not harmless. The scientific evidence shows DNA damage and cancer, not to mention a myriad of health effects. I suggest reading more research and perhaps the recent Appeal to the EU by over 180 scientists found at this link. https://ehtrust.org/scientists-and-doctors-demand-moratorium-on-5g-warning-of-health-effects/

  9. I do not believe that ZTA does not take into consideration the full scope of approving such antennas. 1) How will you define and limit the "approved" provider list? Who will have access?
    2) How can you assure privacy? How will you ensure that the antenna are only providing output for signal strength and not actually cloaking information gathering?
    3) Who will be checking the antenna regularly to determine only approved boxes exist on a pole and that hitchhikers aren't present? Who will check to ensure that hackers are not using the neighborhood poles for preditorial purposes?
    4) Who will be responsible for pole wear and tear maintenance and damage? How can the country assure us there are no hidden costs to taxpayers?
    5) What testing has been done to determine potential health impact for the community?
    6) Will all of the fixtures run on solar energy alone? If not, how will costs be determined and billed to users?
    7) Again, how can the county ensure the safety of the community from hackers, increased expenses, potential health risks, unwanted service vehicles, and potentially more dangerous poles should they come loose?
    While internet connectivity is important, community safety and well being is more important.

  10. First, I thank County staff for their good, hard work in the public interest while
    ensuring compliance with federal law and FCC rulings.

    While the County must be in compliance with federal law and FCC rulings, the applicant, not the County, should bear the burden of proving that application of County requirements would violate the Federal Telecommunications Act.

    So should it be incumbent on applicants to meet or exceed standards such as the National Electrical Code and the National Electrical Safety Code and any applicable standards the County has in place or adopts in the future that benefit the environment, consumers, and public and workforce safety.

    In a manner that is consistent with any current or future superseding standards such NEIR exposure standards of FCC, applicants should provide the County proof of measures that will be taken to keep the public at a distance from a transmission source. Multi-lingual signage warning of a hazard and indicating contact information for an operator and an emergency contact should be required.

    To protect electrical workers and first responders, applicants should be required to install an onsite emergency shutoff switch that de-energizes RF components and related circuitry. A single shutoff switch should be required for all facilities at a co-location site.

    There may be circumstances in which quick permitting is sensible. However, we need to make sure we do not allow current zoning decisions to cede future opportunities as we set the stage for the next decade of 5G growth and improvement on everything from antenna design to network architecture to the impact on local jobs and the economy. Billion dollar telecommunications companies don’t need public assistance and Montgomery County should be able to leverage our assets to get the best deal possible for residents.

    As others’ comments point out., County leaders and residents must have and preserve the authority to protect residents from corporations that want to override local policy or use public funds and property for private gain. One size fits all citing and permitting could deprive our elected government of oversight. Given the County’s leadership in addressing in equality within our diverse County, just as we eschew interference from state and federal policies that matter to real local people’s lives (minimum wage and sick leave, for example), we should do everything possible in every forum possible to pursue a progressive agenda of shared prosperity in Montgomery County.

  11. For example, we should impose County values around environmental sustainability by requiring that obsolete structures and equipment are removed and recycled within a specified period of time.

    As advocates for residents rights as consumers, the County should develop criteria and pre-qualify contractors who can then perform antenna installations.

    In light of the comments of the first poster regarding pole safety, we must make sure that we are doing everything we can to ensure infrastructure is designed and built out with the best and latest advances in safety. The recent devastation across the US and territories caused by storms should prompt a policy goal: our telecommunication infrastructure should withstand natural disasters without operation disruption. Whether hit by a car or wracked by storm force winds, a fully loaded telecommunications tower must be as safely anchored as currently possible for residents. Likewise, I think it is wise to codify that connections between components and facilities and lines must be protected against natural disaster. It should be required that applicants provide the County with a plan that demonstrates how, in the event of a disaster, they will remain operational. Such plans should require inclusion of the installation of back-up generators. Of course, the County should have proof of compliance.

    To help alleviate concerns about antenna location, the County should insist that in order to locate in residential zones, the placement must provide personal wireless services to residents and businesses within Montgomery County and be installed in a way that detracts as little as possible from neighborhood character. The County can further require an applicant to identify not just one site, but another alternative site that could provide comparable services.

    It is, after all, important that, in addition to discussing where we don’t want towers, residents and elected officials weigh where wired and wireless networks should be prioritized. Applicants should be guided by broadly shared goals like managing commercial use of public property and maintaining attractive roads and neighborhoods while creating and growing robust mobile broadband services to historically underutilized and underserved areas, as well as areas where use is high at known periods of times like federal employment facilities and sports venues.

    As a resident, the thing that is most important to me is local job creation and economic development. If providers need zoning changes and / or county approval they should meet hiring requirements set forth by Montgomery County. Residents of Montgomery County should work on and learn on the job. Wages and benefits should be in accordance with industry standards and the cost of living in Montgomery County. When technologies expand so should job opportunities for Montgomery County residents with the most barriers to employment opportunities like veterans, single parents, and the formerly incarcerated.

    I moved to Silver Spring from San Diego, CA where we were already using new technologies to enable intelligent transportation and energy systems. This includes the use of sensors in streetlights that collect data to improve traffic flow and parking and track air quality, saving the City millions of dollars a year. We in Montgomery County should not let the telecommunication companies dictate local decision making around jobs and workforce development, especially when 5G has so much potential to create savings and economic growth.

  12. This comment has been posted on behalf of Sue Present by the Office of Cable and Broadband Services:

    The County should stop telling us that, unless the CE’s ZTA is adopted hook-line-and-sinker, the FCC will pre-empt local regulatory authority. That message is NOT credible! Last year, when the PHED Committee reviewed ZTA 16-05, it asked staff to examine other jurisdictions’ solutions. Whatever happened? Instead of incorporating other communities’ best practices, the CE’s ZTA has taken a rigid approach, giving a lot to the industry and taking a lot from residents/property owners. The draft CE’s ZTA, even more so than its predecessor (ZTA 16-05), unnecessarily and dangerously sacrifices our safety; property values; the aesthetics of our neighborhoods, streetscapes, and skylines; and many traditions and priorities that have been the bedrock of County policies. And it threatens our public resources, too.

    This ZTA is still a draft, continuing to undergo changes. As a result, many uncertainties remain, such as:
    o How will promised new language for “replacements” prohibit Spectrum Act extensions of 10 – 20 feet in height?
    o What is the scope and text of intended revisions to planned Tower Committee regulations?
    o What are the details of the new MOU with PEPCO that are supposed to limit pole heights (and I presume would limit additional poles, too)?

    However, enough information has already been produced to demonstrate that this ZTA and companion legislation/regulations/policies must be further modified to sufficiently:
    o Protect County residents’ and workforce safety;
    o Preserve the aesthetic qualities of our neighborhoods, buildings, streetscapes, and skylines;
    o Provide greater flexibility/alternatives for reviews;
    o Ensure residents/property owners fair notice, access to records, transparent government activities, and the opportunities to participate in application reviews;
    o Fund all review, monitoring, and oversight services solely through application fees;
    o Align with the underlying Zoning Ordinance and other laws/regulations, and to maintain Community Compatibility; and
    o Instill Countywide trust in the systems, agencies, and officials that would be the sole reviewers and approvers of so many more antennas and cell towers, when they have heretofore let the public down through their obfuscation, violation of County regulations, and subservience to the wireless industry.

    -- Sue Present


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