Halt Cell Towers Near Homes - Urge Council to Hit Pause on Cell Tower ZTA 22-01 and ZTA 19-07




  • We are asking the Montgomery Count County Council to hit pause on ZTA 19-07 which allows cell towers 30 feet in front of homes in residential areas and strips away public notice and public hearings.  

  • We are asking the Council to vote NO on  ZTA 22-01- a second, yes second zoning amendment that will allow cell tower antennas on utility poles 30 feet in front of homes, removing notice to residents and public hearings.  


We urgently need your help - NOW - to contact all County Council members with our 1-minute action tool at the top of this page and tell them to:

  • Pause the rollout of the unpopular ZTA 19-07. The FCC's recent big loss in court proves what residents warned all along: The Council can’t trust the FCC's safety standards for wireless radiation to protect our families. A federal appeals court ruled that the FCC failed to show that its 25-year-old safety limits for wireless radiation are based on science!
  • Require County staff to assess the impact of the recent court ruling, in terms of public health and the County's potential liability from residents whose health and property values may be harmed by ZTA 19-07.
  • Urge the FCC to thoroughly review all science related to wireless safety limits and to set limits that ensure human safety. The FCC must do both to comply in good faith with the federal court's ruling -- and to protect our health and environment.

Use our 1-Minute Action Tool to send letters to each Montgomery County Councilmember now:


January 25, 2022 vote

Here's what the two resolutions do (The Council voted yes to these, which help implement ZTA 19-07):

  • Implement new and unfair rules that place residents at extreme disadvantage in zoning hearings for wireless facilities ("telecommunications towers") less than 30 feet from homes or in new locations [2] and
  • Set artificially low fees for applications for special permits for wireless facilities (specifically, “conditional use” and "waiver and objection" applications.[3] These inadequate fees disproportionately subsidize and incentivize Big Wireless at resident/taxpayer expense.

These Council resolutions are designed to make it faster, easier and much cheaper for wireless companies to turn street poles in the public rights of way in residential neighborhoods into small cell towers by tilting rules against residents and lowering costs to encourage placement of obtrusive wireless facilities very close to homes. These resolutions will let wireless providers quickly and easily obtain permits for telecommunications towers:

  • less than 30' from homes
  • up to 50' in height
  • in new locations where there is no existing pole

Even worse, the County Council rushed through these resolutions without addressing a recent U.S. Court of Appeals DC Circuit decision (EHT et al. v. FCC). The Court determined that the FCC failed to provide a "reasoned explanation for its determination that its guidelines adequately protect against harmful effects of exposure to radiofrequency radiation." To date, the FCC has not complied with the Courts' order.

Email using our 1-minute Action Tool and call the Council. Urge Councilmembers to:

  1. PAUSE implementation of ZTA 19-07 until the FCC thoroughly reviews the science related to wireless exposure and sets limits that ensure safety.
  2. PROMPT County executive staff to assess the impact of the court ruling, in terms of public health and the County's liability from residents whose health and property values may be harmed by the ZTA.
  3. GO on record that FCC must thoroughly review the science and issue safety guidelines well-grounded in the results of that review to ensure wireless facilities are safe, before allowing antennas to be placed near dwellings, schools, hospitals, and other sensitive-use structures.

[1] Zoning Text Amendment No.: 19-07 Concerning: Telecommunications Towers – Limited Use was passed in 2019 by Montgomery County Council. https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/COUNCIL/Resources/Files/zta/2019/ZTA_19-07.pdf

[2] The full name of the resolution is “Rules of Procedure for Conditional Uses and Waivers for Certain Telecommunications Towers and Objections to Applications for Waivers for Certain Telecommunications Towers before the Office of Zoning and Administrative Hearings (OZAH)”. Full text of proposed resolution and most recent Council staff memos can be found here:

[3]   The second resolution is entitled: “Additions to OZAH’s Fee Schedule”. Full text and Council staff memo can be found here: https://montgomerycountymd.gov/council/Resources/Files/agenda/col/2022/20220125/20220125_7B.pdf


Background: Zoning Text Amendment
(ZTA) 19-07

The MoCo Council voted 7 to 2 on July 27th 2021 to approve residential cell tower zoning known as ZTA 19-07. This new zoning change took effect on August 16th — and now allows wireless companies to routinely place cell towers just 30 feet from homes — with NO public notice and NO public hearing.

In a landmark ruling on August 13, however, a Federal Court found the FCC "arbitrary and capricious in its complete failure" to explain why the FCC's 25 year old safety limits did not need to be updated. For more information, watch the press conference, read the Court's ruling or the full text of the opinion (PDF).

The Council ignored thousands of residents. Our online petition sent more than 1,600 letters directly to Councilmembers' emails — and, IN ADDITION, 1,700 handwritten signatures from a door-to-door community canvas were submitted to Council.

Use our 1-Minute Action Tool - at the top of this page - to send letters to each Montgomery County Councilmember.


ZTA 19-07 allows so-called "small" cell towers on utility poles, streetlights, and lamp posts just 30 feet from residents' homes. Several "small" cell towers would be possible per block in every neighborhood — including YOURS!

  • No direct notice to any resident — Even if the cell tower would be smack in front of your home.
  • No public hearings either.

Even worse: With a special permit, cell towers could be far closer. No minimum setback at all!

The Council needs to fix the error-ridden County process for reviewing cell-tower applications — and the lack of inspections after permits are issued.

In addition, the Council needs to fix ASAP the horrific provision it passed in 2018- ZTA 18-02 which lets cell towers be just 10 feet — 10 feet! — from multi-family residences in areas zoned for mixed commercial and residential use. All residents deserve far more protective setbacks from the health, safety, and environmental hazards that too-close cell towers pose — and the corresponding reduction in property values and visual blight they cause.

There are minimal protections for residents in ZTA 19-07, as recently revised by the Council's Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) Committee. The version that the committee — chaired by Councilmember Hans Riemer (At-Large), the main sponsor of this dream bill for the wireless industry — sent to the full Council can be voted on at any time. Without another public hearing, this is our last chance to tell Council we don't want cell towers in front of our homes.

  • All existing and replacement utility poles, lamp posts, and streetlights and will be available "small" cell tower sites, as long as they are at least 30 feet from our homes. Replacement poles can be wider and taller.
  • The character of neighborhoods with underground utilities will be altered dramatically.
  • Small cell towers have big, ugly equipment cabinets mounted on the pole or ground-mounted as "street furniture." These bulky boxes can be 6 feet or higher -- big enough to block the line of sight of drivers -- and people trying to cross the street.
  • Property values will decrease.
  • Montgomery County has a history of lax reviews of applications for wireless facilities. For example, the Tower Committee favorably recommended dozens of applications with errors. After residents caught mistakes, the Committee had to reconsider them.
  • No restrictions on how many wireless facilities can be clustered on your street. Supposedly there will be a separation of 150 feet between the same wireless provider's facilities. But that does not stop a different provider from placing their facility on the next pole. Given multiple carriers, that could mean several towers on the same block!
  • With a special permit, the distance could be less than 30 feet from our homes -- There would be no minimum setback from homes at all! Only property owners living within 300 feet of the proposed site would be notified. Reasons to object are extremely limited. Imagine how divisive that will be, with each resident having to argue why the proposed tower should be in front of a neighbor's home instead.
  • Montgomery County lacks requirement for pre-or post-installation on-site inspections to make sure that towers comply with existing FCC radio frequency (RFR) standards. [Other counties in Maryland require this]
  • The County has almost no oversight to make sure that the towers, once approved, are actually built as approved. There is no accountability or consequence for towers installed incorrectly.
  • The County has failed so far to seek an independent legal review by an outside counsel with demonstrated expertise in maximizing public interests. Such review is urgently needed to make sure any Council action protects residents and preserves the County's own authority to the full extent allowed under federal law.
  • ZTA 19-07 is a property give-away to telecom companies, subsidized by residents. Currently, the cost of fees doesn't cover the full costs of processing applications and permits, maintaining the right of way, and paying outside contractors to provide the County with technical support.


Wireless "Small" Cells Will Drop Property Values!

Montgomery County will be considering thousands of new applications for these "small" cell towers (that could be taller than 50 feet). The Montgomery County government itself has raised concerns in its own legal briefs filed in federal court about the reality of decreased property values of property near small cell towers. [9/19/2018 Ex Parte for 17-79]

In April 2011, the Property Tax Assessment Appeal Board for Montgomery County reduced the value of a property. One of the reasons cited was, "Probability of neighboring cell tower also affects value negatively."

Residents Have Subsidized the Wireless Industry for Years

Massive taxpayer subsidization of wireless development will continue. Current application review fees do not cover the County’s actual administrative costs. Montgomery County's 2011 and 2017 comments to the FCC acknowledge that "the County subsidizes the cost of reviewing applications for tower siting facilities and augments the process with dedicated staff", and "fees for new structures are significantly less than the actual cost...The County opted to keep these fees low to facilitate the deployment of telecommunications facilities in the mid-1990’s and 2000’s", respectively. The County has never done a full accounting of what it costs to manage everything. Even if they wanted to, they don't yet know what to charge to break even.

Montgomery County's Broken Process for Review and Oversight of Cell Towers

Examples exist of towers built too tall, too close to homes, with too many antennas -- even at the wrong address!

Some examples are:

too tall, too close, no notice

  • Travilah Rd, North Potomac: about 37 feet from home
  • 11th Ave, Silver Spring: about 40 feet from the home
  • MacArthur Blvd, Potomac: installed without a hearing
  • Norbeck Rd, Silver Spring: installed without a hearing
  • Arliss St, Silver Spring: exceeded approved height
  • Dufief Mill Rd, North Potomac: exceeded approved height
  • Brickyard Rd, Potomac: installed at the wrong location
  • Oaklyn Dr, Potomac: installed at the wrong location
  • Belfast Pl, Potomac: installed at the wrong location

The County does not require proof that residents or workers are not being illegally exposed to levels of radio-frequency radiation over federal limits! There are no baseline or post-installation measurements of radio-frequency (RF) radiation. The lack of onsite audits of RF radiation is already an urgent problem for antennas mounted on occupied buildings -- especially affordable multi-family housing sites, which are favorite industry targets to turn into cell towers.

5G -- the Excuse for Neighborhood Cell Towers Everywhere -- is an Energy Hog

New dense 5G networks are climate unfriendly. 5G networks are being built in addition to existing cellular networks. The rollout of 5G will enable a dramatic INCREASE in energy consumption, as climate organizations have repeatedly warned. Industry reports also show that gains in energy efficiency will be nullified by the proliferation of new cell towers and the devices they will connect.

  • A 2020 Report by the High Council for Climate found that 5G technology could add between 2.7 to 6.7 million [metric] tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year by 2030.
  • "A 5G base station is generally expected to consume roughly three times as much power as a 4G base station. And more 5G base stations are needed to cover the same area", according to an article featured in IEEE Spectrum.
  • The Shift Project Report on the "Environmental Impact" documented the increased energy consumption and concludes that “the current trend for digital over-consumption in the world is not sustainable".
  • "A typical 5G base station consumes up to twice or more the power of a 4G base station," stated MTN Consulting in their report on how companies can prepare for the increased energy cost.

Serious Impacts to Tree Canopy and the Environment

There are serious impacts to the environment that are not being considered by the County. Published research reviews warn that cell tower radiation can harm bees, birds, trees, plants, and wildlife. The California Sierra Club is opposed to the unfettered roll-out of cell towers near our homes. The Washington, DC Sierra Club opposed small cells because of the impact to the tree canopy. The Montgomery County Sierra Club urged deferral of ZTA 19-07 because of increased energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Read Montgomery County and DC Sierra Club testimony here.

Below are some more unaddressed and unanswered questions:

  • How many trees will be pruned or cut down, and who will have oversight?
  • Birds will perch on these transmitting antennas. Why are there no RFR measurements?
  • Who will ensure protection for our trees, pollinating insects, and wildlife?
  • How will the County meet its climate goals with increased emissions?

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) submitted an important Amicus Brief in a new federal legal appeal explaining why our so-called safety limits for cell tower radio-frequency radiation have lacked proper environmental review. Read the Amicus Brief by NRDC signed onto by elected officials from Hawaii to Michigan to California to Massachusetts to Maryland* on why an environmental review is needed for these small cell towers!

*Mayor Kate Stewart and most of the City Council of Takoma Park signed onto the NRDC Amicus Brief.

Montgomery County Itself Has Pointed to Potential Irreversible Health Risks

In 2019, Montgomery County’s own legal brief stated: “If the new 5G environment, in fact, poses health risks, any prior rollout of 5G will have potentially injured citizens of Montgomery County and other municipalities, including sensitive populations like children, that cannot be undone. Such a result would be unconscionable.”

(page 55) 19-70147 Montgomery County, Maryland v. FCC

More published research on 5G

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