Landmark Federal Court Ruling!
Tell MoCo Council To Halt Cell Tower ZTA 19-07 Allowing Towers 30 Feet From Homes
CELL TOWERS SHOULD NOT BE NEAR BEDROOMS
EMAIL THE COUNTY COUNCIL TODAY:
Cell Towers Should Not Be Placed 30 Feet From Homes Without Public Notice and Hearings!
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.
Ask them to:
- Halt the Cell Tower ZTA which removes public hearings and notice!
- Support the County Executive’s proposal for a stakeholder advisory group.
Your signing the resident-friendly action alert will ensure that you also receive updates so that we can ultimately reverse this zoning together!
ONE MINUTE LETTER: Go to top of this page to quickly send emails to the whole Council, urging them to take the actions above.
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:
- 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.
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.”
See What Members of Your Community Have Been Doing...
RAISE AWARENESS IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD
A growing coalition of residents and local groups have information and fact sheets for your community.
Montgomery County Resources
- PRESS BRIEFING June 28, 2021 – MoCo Residents Protest Radical ZTA 19-07
- County PowerPoint on wireless poles showing options such as garbage cans designed as cell transmitters.
- Watch the Montgomery County town hall where residents packed the hearing room and opposed these "small" cell towers!
- 2018 Video of Testimony
- 2019 Video of Testimony
Making Headline News
Montgomery County residents' strong action has been going on for years.