Montgomery County Cell Tower Information

The Montgomery County Transmission Facilities Coordination Group (TFCG) Receives Applications from Telecom companies to install wireless facilities. Resident advocates have created this guide to document and hopefully clarify the often confusing, hard to find, and most relevant County information.

Background
Despite intense resident opposition, in 2022, the Montgomery County Council passed new zoning regulations that reduce the antenna setback to 30 feet from homes and schools and apartments, allow cell tower antennas on street lights, utility poles, and new poles in residential neighborhoods and remove residents’ previous rights to notice and hearings — eliminating the community from the decision making process. Please sign the Petition to Reform Montgomery County Cell Tower Legislation. When you sign the petition you will be added to the coalition news alert email list. Here are the top reasons why residents opposed ZTA 22-01 and want reform.

The Montgomery County Transmission Facilities Coordination Group (TFCG) website is Montgomery County’s public facing web site for cell tower information.

On the TFCG website you can find the link called Wireless Locations, but you’ll have to scroll down nearly to the bottom of the page to find it. There is also a link called “Map: An interactive map of telecommunication facilities in Montgomery County” featured prominently, but it is not kept up to date and it is often inaccurate.

The page title, “Wireless Facilities Locations”, is a misnomer.

That webpage, states that all applications received by the TFCG are now publicly available online–and accessible in two ways. The first button is a link to download the Application database in Excel format. The Second button is a link to the dataMontgomery version of the database which does allow you to interact with the data in a visualizer. At least one important column, “App_description”, that is in the Excel version is missing from the dataMontgomery version. If you want to do a search through applications or get an idea where the cell towers are proposed or located, it may be best to use both the Excel database AND the dataMontgomery database. When you access the dataMontgomery database, you will see it first loads as data table. Since there is a column for the geographic location/address, you could use the interactive tools provided to create a map view of the data. This allows you zoom in to specific addresses and hover over the nodes that represent each application, then click to select and view a menu with the application information, including a link to the application PDF. We have created a map visualization using the dataMontgomery data set and made it available on our data-visualizer page and have added the crucial Department of Permitting Services (DPS) dataset to this visualization. More information on the DPS data set is available on the visualizer page. We have found that to gain the best understanding of County Wireless Facility Siting decisions, you must search all three data sets: the Excel database, the dataMontgomery database and the DPS data set.

Below is a scrollable view of the Excel database file published by the County on January 26, 2023 and located here: https://montgomerycountymd.gov/cable/Resources/Files/Towers/databases/MC%20Database%201_26_23.xlsx. Their database is often updated daily so be sure to get the latest download from the TFCG website.

Tips for using the Excel database.

Looking at column heading “D: ColoNewMM” you can see that applications can be made for things like a colocation, new installation or a modification. For a particular site location, there can be many data rows because there is a row created for each application. Over the years there can be many rows of applications added for a site.

The TFCG website states in their key that an application can have the following status terms (see column “W: Action” in the Excel database and column “10: Status” in the dataMontgomery version):

Under Review”: The Application is currently being reviewed, but projected to be on next eligible TFCG agenda. This status must be reached a minimum of 7 days prior to a TFCG meeting in order to be heard before the committee.

Pending – Not Complete”: Application has been submitted, but has not been deemed complete yet.

Tabled”: The application is on hold, and is not currently being processed.

Withdrawn”: The applicant has withdrawn the application, and it will not be processed.

“Recommended” and “Not Recommended”: Strangely, the TFCG key neglected to provide information about these status terms. “Recommended“, to the best of our knowledge, means the company can proceed with the work. However, the Tower Committee must, per MCC Div. 11D, Sec. 2.58E.(c)(3)(C), “recommend to any land use agency a decision on any pending siting issue, including any appropriate provisions governing removal of the facility after its useful life concludes and the posting of a bond to guarantee removal.”

“Recommended with conditions” is another status term not described in their key.

Example: TTFCG Action “Recommended with conditions” from an application made for Oakview Recreation Assoc. for constructing a 120′ monopole with three 54″ panel antennas at the 120′ level.
“This recommendation conditioned on: This recommendations is conditioned on approval of a Special Exception for this facility in a residential zone and a waiver of the setback requirements from the Board of Appeals for this monopole. “

But take a look at the Excel database excerpt: Under the “Action” column it says “Recommended” instead of “Recommended with conditions”. This omission of information keeps the public in the dark. To learn if there are any conditions to an application, one would have to scroll to the “webUrl” column in either the Excel database or the dataMontgomery version to access the application PDF.

ApplNoCarrierNameApp_DescriptionColoNewMMSiteNameAddressStreetCityOwnerTypeStructureRcvdAction DateActionwebUrl
200508-11T-MobileNew 120′ monopoleNewOakview Recreation Assoc.1101Corliss StSilver SpringOakview Recreation AssociationPrivateMonopole8/24/20059/14/2005Recommendedhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/montgomerycountytfcg/Applications/200508-11.pdf

Photo of installed monopole.

Did the applicant ever get the required approval of a Special Exception for this facility in a residential zone and a waiver of the setback requirements from the Board of Appeals for this monopole cell tower?

This property, located right next to an elementary school, used to be a thriving community pool and recreation center.

Important Note: Despite resident objections, the TFCG staff and contract personnel routinely alter the Excel database and the dataMontgomery data set in ways that some of us believe should not be permitted since it is an official County record. This can be seen as deliberate falsification of County records.

Here are some examples of alterations we have seen the County TFCG staff and their contractors make:

  • When the owner of the property changes, the record is altered to change the owner of the property to the new/current property owner for all entries back to the initial application, which could run over decades.
  • When there is a change in the zoning of the property, staff makes the zoning for the property the current zoning for all entries back to the initial application.

Changes and erasures by the County or contractors that update record entries to current times and deviate from the facts at the time of the committee vote tamper with history and the record, can deceive the public, and constitute very flawed records management. Montgomery County residents deserve better!

The Committee meets monthly, with industry reps in attendance and actively participating, to review and make recommendations on all applications. Although meetings are open to the public, there is no way for the public to actively participate in Tower Committee meetings. Telecom reps are permitted to speak; residents are not! Read the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County Article. Despite residents’ repeated requests [asking], the recordings of the meetings are not made and archived. When residents have sought to record the meetings themselves, the Tower Committee chair has threatened them with criminal penalties.

Marjorie Williams, Tower Committee Chair
240-777-3762
marjorie.williams@montgomerycountymd.gov

Tower Committee Members Web page

A Note about Municipalities

The TFCG does not review telecommunication applications for the following municipalities that are located in Montgomery County.  These municipalities develop their own policies and review procedures regarding radio and telecommunication facilities.  The applications must be submitted to the municipality for their review and approval.

  • City of Gaithersburg
  • City of Rockville
  • Town of Barnesville
  • Town of Brookeville
  • Town of Laytonsville
  • Town of Poolesville
  • Town of Washington Grove

It is important to note that whenever a wireless telecommunication facility application concerns a county right-of-way that is located within any of these municipalities, then county telecommunication facility regulations apply.

Other TFCG Web Resources: dataMontgomery interactive database.

The second button link on the Wireless Facilities Locations webpage is to the dataMontgomery version of the Wireless Siting Application Database. It loads in a data table. There are tools for creating filters and other types of visualizations, such as a map view of the data–which allows you to search by address or zoom in, hover over the nodes then click to access the data. We have created a video demo for using the map visualizer or you can view the custom visualization we created and saved.

Other TFCG Web Resources: MAP

TFCG web page provides a link to a map with the caption, “An interactive map of telecommunication facilities in Montgomery County. From experience, we can tell you that the County does not update this map frequently. We have seen it age a couple of years before it was updated. As of January 24, 2023 the date stamp says 11/10/22.

Some may find that this map is still useful. Tip: use the data layers on the map.

Other TFCG Web Resources: Comment Form

Comment on Wireless Tower Applications — The last time we used this comment form, it had limited character input space and didn’t allow any hyperlinks, images or attachments. A Montgomery County resident that used the form said they did not receive confirmation that their comment was received. They also stated that they were able to infer that their request was completely ignored, if it was even reviewed or considered at all. It may be best to email the committee members directly.

Other TFCG Web Resources: Sign up for email notifications

Sign up to receive email notifications of wireless telecom applications

Here is a sample email notification received on 1/28/2023. Note the status term “Pending – Not Complete”.

Dear Subscriber,

Montgomery County, MD Government has received the following wireless telecom application(s). For more information about an application listed in the table below, then scroll to the right and select the link (if available) in the URL column. In an effort to notify residents as soon as an application is submitted, some applications may not have a URL since the pdf has not been generated. All pdf’s will be available within 3 business days. Please visit the TFCG website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/towers.

Application #Carrier NameApplication TypeSite NameAddressCityZoningSite OwnerStructure TypeReceived DateStatusURL
2023012095AT&T WirelessMinor ModificationClassic Residence8100 Connecticut Ave,Chevy ChaseChevy ChaseR-10SNH CCMD Properties LLCBuilding1/26/2023Pending – Not Completehttps://montgomerycountytfcg.s3.amazonaws.com/Applications/MC2023012095.pdf

You received this email because you’ve registered to receive Montgomery County wireless telecom application notifications. If you no longer want to receive these notifications, then you may Unsubscribe

Thank You,

Montgomery County, MD Government

Other TFCG Web Resources: Strand Mount Locations

Wireless Telecommunications (Strand Mount) Locations. This page does not tell you any of the proposed or existing locations! The only way we are aware of to see which applications are specifically for Strand Mount antennas or related equipment, is to view the Excel version of the database, specifically, column “C: App_description”. This description field is where you will find the mention of strand antennas if it is part of the application. You can search the Excel database (ctrl f windows) for the word “strand”. Here is an example for application no. 2019010665 “Crown Castle is proposing to install a power supply cabinet to an existing 29′-2″ PEPCO wood utility pole (#793424-0998). The purpose of this installation is to supply power to small cell strand nodes that are located in the same vicinity as the power sup”

Other TFCG Web Resources: Department of Permitting Services (DPS) data set

Department of Permitting Services (DPS) data set. Since telecommunications facility coordination regulations were first adopted in 2003, these regulations have required a database that documents where each wireless facility is located. And for many years residents have complained that the TFCG database only documents wireless applications, but not the locations of the actual, permitted wireless installations. A MoCo resident demanded for over a decade that this DPS dataset, which is required in the regulation, be made available to the public. Access was finally granted in late 2019 so only data from that point forward is supplied in the dataset. The data shows each wireless antenna facility and the corresponding TFCG application. Follow the visualizer directions in the demo video if you wish to view the data on an interactive map.

Other TFCG Web Resources: Antenna ZTA Map

The Antenna ZTA Map has layers you can toggle on/off and there is NO indication that the data is up to date.* Use this map to get an idea of how many thousands of potential new wireless “small” cell tower locations near our bedroom windows were just handed over to Big Wireless at MoCo resident expense with the passage of ZTA 19-07 and 22-01.

  • CANCEL the sign-in to get access
  • click OK to the next pop-up prompt
  • scroll down @ left to REMOVE any pre-set layers
  • scroll down FURTHER @ left to choose the <30–foot street light pole layers
  • Note: the about/info link has links to very outdated MoCo gov web pages.
  • *Concerned residents: email Mr. McGovern and ask for up-to-date data and process transparency. Info box on the map says “For questions relating to this website and the underlying data displayed, please contact Christopher McGovern from the Montgomery County Planning Department. mailto:christopher.mcgovern@montgomeryplanning.org”

Photos showing various cell tower and “small” cell installations around Montgomery County. All prior to the passage of ZTA 22-01.

On Rooftops
Dozens of wireless facilities on top of the roof of a multi-family residential building. Residents of color and immigrant communities disproportionately impacted.

To view the applications for rooftop cell tower buildings like this, download the Excel database and sort the “site name” column and search for the apartment or condo name.

In Yards Towering Over Houses
A 68′ high cell tower was installed at the wrong address and remains standing 12 years later. MoCo has a history of lax reviews and oversight.

Beside Apartment Buildings
A utility pole with top mount antenna and an attached equipment box 27′ from building. Residents’ rights to notice and hearings eliminated with the passage of ZTA 19-07 and 22-01.

Beside Apartment Buildings as viewed from your bedroom window.
This “small” cell antenna and equipment box is 10′ from a residential window located in NYC–and the residents in the region are fighting it fiercely. Did you know this type of installation has been allowable here in Montgomery County since 2018 with zoning legislation that passed for mixed residential/business zones?

Lurking over your child’s playset
That cell tower would almost blend in with the sky if the high voltage electric cables attached to the sides were painted a lighter color. The noise and diesel fumes from the backup generators might give it away though.

Public School Grounds

Monopoles have lots of room to co-locate more antennas and equipment–perhaps a financial enticement for the school board. Who is monitoring the cumulative radiation levels? Did you know that the applicant is only required to supply a computer simulation of antenna radiation? Applicants do not perform “real world” radiation testing.

Hidden in a church steeple