Montgomery County Sets Zoning Standards for Small Cell Antennas

The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday adopted a zoning text amendment (ZTA) that sets standards for small cell wireless antennas in mixed-use commercial and industrial zones. ZTA 18-02 would allow more antennas in commercial and urban areas, on lower height building rooftops, and utility poles. The ZTA does not make any changes to use of street lights in residential areas or in areas with underground utilities.

Small cells are wireless antennas that have a smaller footprint and shorter range than macrocells (what you would typically imagine as a large, tall, and free-standing cell tower), allowing them to be placed on short poles and existing structures such as streetlights and buildings. The technology is proliferating in part to increase network capacity and coverage as the demand for wireless services has increased.

ZTA 18-02 permits the installation of new equipment on existing utility poles or replacement poles in commercial and mixed-use areas. In addition to requiring small cells be masked to minimize aesthetic impacts, the law puts a cap on the allowable height of replacement poles and requires them to be the same color as the poles they are replacing.

The law makes no changes to the requirement that new small cell structures be at least 300 feet from homes and be subject to a public hearing. Further, no changes were made to the 60-foot setback requirement for equipment on existing structures in residential zones.

Earlier this year, MACo opposed a bill that would have regulated small cell technology across the state and significantly preempted local authority and had inequitable impacts on local communities. While counties embrace innovation and the advancement of broadband technology, local authority and community decision-making is crucial. The bill’s hearing was canceled and did not move out of committee. Bill Information | MACo Coverage