Stop Cell Towers In Front Of MoCo Homes!
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Update October 25, 2022
Despite widespread opposition, the County Council approved zoning text amendment (ZTA) 22-01, Antennas on Existing Structures.
This ZTA changes the current setback from 60 feet to 30 feet for wireless antennas on existing structures such as utility poles and streetlights. There is no limit on height nor on the amount of equipment boxes that can be attached to utility poles. Last year, the Council passed a similar bill, ZTA 19-07, which allows cell antennas on top of other street poles at 30 feet from homes and eliminates routine public notice and hearings.What is next?
Our coalition is now working to reverse both these ZTA’s with the incoming Council. Stay updated by signing onto our petition.
The Planning Board Fiasco
In the latest chapter of this unfolding soap opera: videos have emerged from over two years ago of the Chair of the Planning Board (Mr. Anderson) openly drinking in his office during zoom calls while discussing planning policy in the County – published on the board’s official YouTube channel. The presence of multiple bottles of alcohol in plain view would be obvious to anyone setting foot in his office or attending a video call with him – these bottles are visible during official planning commission zoom meetings.
At the same time, the Council President said in a press release on Friday, October 21 that the Council “swiftly took action.”
When it comes to oversight of the Planning Board, the buck stops with the County Council, which is the only body that can hire and fire members of the Planning Board.
These videos raise a number of unanswered questions for the Council:
- When did the Council first become aware of inappropriate or irregular activity at the Planning Board?
- When did the Chair of the Council’s Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) Committee first become aware of this activity at the Planning Board? Did he look the other way to avoid derailing his legislative agenda in his final term? (The Council has passed SEVEN zoning amendments since an Inspector General report was first sent to the Council President on August 25 and is scheduled to pass two more on October 25, along with a massive and controversial update to the master plan for the County, which was last updated in 1969.)
- Has the PHED Chair consumed alcohol or witnessed others doing so with Mr. Anderson in his office?
- When did the PHED Chair first become aware of allegations of a “toxic misogynistic and hostile workplace” at the Planning Board?
Click START WRITING at the upper right of this page to use our 1-minute tool to ask the Council for answers!
As we shared last week, the County Council took the extraordinary step of seeking the resignation of the entire Planning Board due to “lost confidence” after a series of events, beginning with news reports of Mr. Anderson’s fully stocked bar in his office in violation of County rules.
- If the Council has no confidence in the fired Planning Board members, how can the Council have confidence in the recommendations prepared by a dysfunctional Planning Board?
- If the PHED Chair was not aware of irregular activity at the Planning Board prior to media reporting on September 13, then to what extent was he engaging in his oversight role?
- The Council reportedly gave former Planning Board members a choice: face a public hearing or resign. They all resigned. Why? What was the dirty laundry these board members wanted to avoid disclosing at a public hearing?
- Did the Planning Board follow its own procedures in preparing its recent zoning recommendations?
- Why has there been no formal investigation into activities at the Planning Board?
- Beginning in 2006, when Mr. Anderson first donated to the PHED Chair’s campaign
- Mr. Anderson was in the top 11 of all donors (excluding family members) to the PHED Chair’s campaign for County Council in 2010, the year prior to Mr. Anderson’s initial appointment to the board
- PHED Chair supported Mr. Anderson’s promotion to chair of the Planning Board, just a few months before Mr. Anderson donated to the PHED Chair’s 2014 campaign
- PHED Chair re-nominated Mr. Anderson for his job in 2019, saying: “I would like to make a motion to nominate Casey Anderson as chair of the Planning Board. I’m really pleased to be able to do that this morning. I first met Casey in 2006, long before I was elected to the Council and before he was appointed to the Planning Board. We used to spend hours talking.” He continued, “Casey has played a central role in just about every major decision we have made about land use, transportation, and our park system.”
The Chair of the PHED Committee and Mr. Anderson have a long history:
Why does all this matter for ZTA 22-01?
The Planning Board must prepare a recommendation on any zoning change. And the dysfunctional former board recommended cell towers 30 feet from homes, despite material misstatements in its report (see page 21).
In response to recent events, 9 local groups with a range of interests sent a letter to the Council on Friday, October 21 united around a shared message: the Council should halt any and all further action on any pending zoning amendments or zoning legislation until:
(1) a new, permanent Planning Board is duly appointed; and
(2) the Council publicly releases a full and independent investigation to assure that the recommendations and plans prepared by the old Planning Board were done properly.
In addition to recent events, the former Planning Board has been admonished by several outside entities:
- In 2021, the Office of General Counsel found that the board was not in compliance with lobbying regulations
- In June 2022, the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board found that the Planning Board had violated the Open Meetings Act
This is the same Planning Board that must weigh in on any zoning change. The same Planning Board that recommended cell towers 30 feet from homes, despite material misstatements in its report (see page 21).Maryland law requires a minimum 3-week process to appoint new Planning Board members. However the Council plans to appoint "temporary acting" members in just nine days, while it carries on with adopting 22-01, along with other zoning changes, before October 31. This is the key deadline for the current Council – any zoning changes not passed by October 31 must wait until after the election.
ICYMI - coverage of this month's rally!
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BACK TO THE TOP TO START YOUR LETTER
Under ZTA 22-01, you will get NO public notice, no public hearing, and no right to appeal, as long as the pole is at least 30 feet away in any residential neighborhood, which includes houses and apartments.Thanks to all of you
who wrote letters to the County Council and County Executive opposing 22-01. After receiving your letters, the Council increased the number of slots for residents at the September 13 public hearing from only 6 up to 15 slots.
42 residents signed up to testify against 22-01 (thank you again!), however the Council left 27 of them stranded on the waitlist, barred from speaking. The Council declined to move the hearing to a full nighttime hearing to allow all residents on the waitlist to speak. Click here to watch video testimony.
Every single resident who signed up to testify or submitted testimony opposed this ZTA. It was unanimous. The only people who testified in favor were 2 lobbyists and the chairman of the County Planning Board, an employee selected by the County Council.
ACTION you can take right now: Click on the right-hand side of this page do use our 1-minute tool to tell the Council to Cancel all action on ZTA 22-01 this term.
A number of Councilmembers have declined to speak with constituents and members of our coalition regarding 22-01. We hope Councilmembers will recall that they are elected to represent their constituents, not to rubber-stamp bills for lobbyists.
We are cc:ing these emails to all candidates for County Council and County Executive in the upcoming November election. We encourage all candidates to urge the outgoing, lame-duck Council not to take any further action on this issue and allow the incoming Council to consider changes to the zoning code and wireless regulations.
Background on ZTA 22-01
Last year, the County Council adopted ZTA 19-07, a zoning law pushed through for the wireless industry after six years of residents’ intense objections. Despite finally passing this ZTA, the lead sponsor of 19-07 and 22-01 is claiming that the language of last year’s bill was “not exactly as intended” and needs further correction. He wants to pass yet another ZTA to make it even easier for the wireless industry to install thousands of antennas just 30 feet from homes, on existing utility or light poles.
30 feet is not the magic number!
There is no FCC requirement, no plausible legal justification, for the 30-foot cell antenna setback of ZTA 22-01. It is yet another gratuitous handout to the wireless industry.
ZTA 22-01 and 19-07 do not provide for any prior notice to residents, or any right of hearing or appeal, for cell towers 30 or more feet from homes. Utility poles contemplated under 22-01 have NO HEIGHT LIMIT.
The Council’s own staff, in its Racial Equity and Social Justice impact statement on ZTA 22-01, did not find that 22-01 would have a positive net impact on racial equity or social justice in the County. And that was after relying on a “report” that was “generously” supported by T-Mobile. At the same time, Council staff noted that “if the reduced set back requirements for small cell towers authorized under ZTA 22-01 results in negative health outcomes, this in turn could widen health disparities by race and ethnicity.” The statement did not even consider the social justice impacts of close proximity towers on vulnerable populations. Read residents’ RESJ analysis and the staff’s reply.
BACK TO THE TOP TO START YOUR LETTER
Want To Do More?
Print flyers, distribute to your neighbors and local community groups, and share online!
Submit written testimony! Send personal emails to the council, call their offices, leave voicemails, tweet at them publicly, and request one-on-one meetings.
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