Cell Wireless Facility Application Spotlight: Utility Poles on Merrimac Drive Improperly Expanded BEFORE Tower Committee Decision on Proposed Wireless Facility – Takoma Park Should Deny Permit for Attachment

Prepared by Rick Meyer (mc4t.org)

March 8, 2019

Takoma Park should reject application for permit to install wireless facility that may be requested by PEPCO on behalf of Crown Castle for attachment to utility pole located in front of 902 Merrimac Drive.

The original permit to replace and “make ready” existing pole(s) on Merrimac Drive was issued improperly in 2017 for third party attachment of a wireless facility.

The application for the original permit should NOT have been submitted by PEPCO until AFTER proper recommendation was issued by Tower Committee for application 201802-05 submitted in December 2017 and, subsequently, tabled by Crown Castle in February 2018. Nor should Takama Park have issued the permit.

Nonetheless, even though the Crown Castle had withdrawn their application PEPCO went forward with “make ready” and made the pole(s) substantially taller.

Crown Castle’s second application #2018120624 as submitted in late 2018 was ONLY recommended because pole #80422-090050, which was unlawfully made taller, was subsequently, and incorrectly, classified as “existing” by the Tower Committee.


  1. PEPCO and Takoma Park did NOT follow COMCOR 2.58E.01.08.
    • The section is excerpted below.
    • The section specifies ALL permits must reference TFCG application number and makes no carve out for permits issued by municipalities such as Takoma Park.
    • Since Takoma Park is subject to County zoning rules this section must also be followed, but apparently was NOT.
    • Further, it would appear that neither Takoma Park, nor PEPCO immediately forwarded permit to the Tower Committee, which in theory,should have triggered alarm bells that permits were being issued ahead of Tower Committee recommendations.
  2. The taller replacement pole requested in first application 201802-05 would NOT have been recommended for “limited use” by the Tower Committee under zoning ordinances in effect at time permit was issued:
    • The first Tower Committee application for this facility was submitted in December 2017, tabled in February 2018 and, then, superseded by a new application in December 2018.
    • The second application asserted that an improperly modified pole should be considered as existing.
    • Comments were filed to the Tower Committee regarding the first application noting that modifications to pole would exceed allowable increases and would NOT quality for” limited use” under the zoning ordinance in effect AT THAT TIME.
    • Thus, the first application to the Tower Committee would have referred to Office of Zoning and Hearings for a conditional use hearing.
    • Remember, ZTA 18-02 did not become effective until June 2018.
      1. This ZTA authorized replacement poles in the C/R zone that met the standards of the ordinance as a Limited Use.
      2. Among the standards were more relaxed antenna size standards.
      3. And it established a height limit for the pole, including the attached antenna facility, as the height of the pre-existing utility pole plus 10 feet,
      4. except when on wide roads (greater than 65 feet) where the height limit was allowed to be a total of 15 feet
    • So, the first permit to increase pole height was improperly issued because the replacement pole had NOT been recommended by Tower Committee and would not have been eligible for limited use.
    • Thus, the improperly modified pole cannot be accurately or properly be considered as “existing” as it was non-conforming to zoning requirement in effect at time of permit issuance.
  3. PEPCO’s “make ready” of the pole occurred after expiration of the permit issued by Takoma Park.
    • It was announced at the March 6, 2019 Tower Committee meeting that the permit which was improperly issued had expired in March 2018.
    • However, the pole markings show manufacture date of “5 18″ – or May 2018. (see photo below.)
    • The photos submitted with the second Tower Committee application from Crown Castle were dated September 2018.
    • So, the replacement pole must have been installed sometime between May and September 2018.
    • PEPCO should have notified Takoma Park for street and sidewalk closures on the specific date(s) when pole was installed to determine the precise installation date.
    • Regardless, we believe replacement pole was installed without a lawful Takoma Park permit in force.
  4. Section 3.6.7 of the zoning ordinance requires non-electrical distribution lines in this zone to be installed underground.
    • The diagrams in the application clearly show that the pole is to dependent on aerial fiber optic cable for backhaul.
    • However, new aerial cable that is NOT for electric distribution MUST be underground.
    • The proposed facility is therefore even further in non- conformance.
  5. There were actually two poles that were significantly enlarged in relation to this facility but work on the second pole directly across the street should NOT have commenced until the Tower Committee properly recommended the site. (see photos below.)
    • The stub pole directly across the street from #80422-090050 was also modified to be made substantially taller, but not fully disclosed by PEPCO as necessary in relation to the entire wireless facility project.
    • This second pole will be the connect point for proposed new aerial fiber.
    • The combination of these two modified poles substantially and adversely modifies the street scape.
    • But the scale of these combined modification(s) were never properly addressed in application(s) for permits or to the Tower Committee.

02.58E.01.08 Building Permit.

  1. A building permit is required for the construction of a telecommunications transmission facility in the County.
  2. All permit applications must reference the Wireless Communications Site application number, and must include the recommendation of the Telecommunications Transmission Facility Coordinating Group and the approval of the land owning agency, if applicable.
  3. Building permit approvals may be expedited if copies of standard construction drawings are on file with the permitting agency.
  4. Upon issuance and release of the building permit, a copy of the permit will be sent to the Tower Coordinator for filing with the application and supporting documentation. A copy of the site plan and construction drawings will be furnished to the Tower Coordinator upon request for use in updating the database.

Merrimac Drive August 2017 Source: Google Maps

Merrimac Drive, January 2019 Source: Rick Meyer

Marking on pole #80422-090050 showing May 2018 manufacture date. Source: Rick Meyer

Posted in City of Takoma Park, Weekly News Scoop and tagged , , , .