- Quoting an e-mail from T-Mobile, the Whitman High website said that "[t]he Montgomery County Planning Board would need to approve the installation." (Click this link to access the document.)
- A fact sheet distributed by T-Mobile at its November 17, 2009 presentation states: "T-Mobile may continue forward with the County process, which includes a technical review by the Montgomery County Tower Review Committee, and thereafter review by M-NCPPC professional staff and Planning Board." (Click this link to access the fact sheet.)
- On December 2, 2009, purportedly reporting about T-Mobile's November 17 presentation, The Black and White, Whitman High's school newspaper, said: "[t]he final decision will be subject to the approval of the Montgomery County Tower Review Committee and superintendent Jerry Weast." (Click this link to access the report.)
- A January 8, 2010 report on 9News Now stated: "If Whitman's PTSA approves the tower, it would then be up to Superintendent Jerry Weast to sign off on it." (Click this link to access the report.)
Under Montgomery County law (click here), a private telecommunications carrier intending to install a cell tower on public school property must first submit an application for review and recommendation by the Telecommunications Transmission Facilities Coordinating Group (Tower Committee). The Tower Committee maintains an informative website (click here), including a description of the coordination process (click here).
The Tower Committee consists of representatives from various County agencies that own or use public land, and thus may be interested in leasing land to cell phone companies for the installation of cell towers. The current members of the Tower Committee are:
Margie Williams, Chair (Department of Technology Services-Cable Office)
Steve Batterden (Department of Public Works and Transportation)
John Cuff (Office of Management and Budget)
Carlton Gilbert (Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission)
Dave Niblock (Department of Permitting Services)
Martin Rookard (Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission-Telecom Network Group)
Mary Pat Wilson (Montgomery County Public Schools-Department of Facilities Management)
Helen Mu (Department of Technology Services)
(Click this link for their contact information.)
Although each County agency retains the right to decide for itself whether or not to go forward with a proposed cell tower lease, the Tower Committee process is intended to ensure a uniform application process, coordinate the siting of cell towers, and coordinate on policy issues.
Montgomery County also has appointed a Tower Coordinator who receives cell tower applications and coordinates review by the Tower Committee. The Tower Coordinator reviews tower applications for site suitability and checks whether alternative sites exist for a proposed tower, or whether the proposed antennas could be placed on existing towers or other structures (so-called "co-location" options); determines the applicable zoning standards, in particular whether the application is "by right" or requires a "special exception;" and looks into the effect of the proposed tower on the land owning County agency and the potential impacts on the surrounding areas. On this basis, the Tower Coordinator makes a siting recommendation to the Tower Committee for its consideration.
Upon receipt of the Tower Coordinator's siting recommendation, the Tower Committee discusses the application in a public meeting and issues a recommendation to the Montgomery County Planning Board. The meeting dates (as well as agendas and minutes of previous meetings) are published on the Tower Committee's website. (Click this link for access to the website.)
According to the database maintained by the Tower Coordinator, T-Mobile submitted its application already in March 2009. (Click this link for access to the database.) The County informed us that the application was incomplete, because it lacked required technical information, and for this reason the Tower Coordinator has not yet issued a recommendation. In addition, the County informed us that the Tower Committee would not be addressing T-Mobile's application until after T-Mobile and Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) have completed obtaining and evaluating the public's input.
In its December 7, 2009 e-mail to the Whitman school community, the PTSA leadership emphasized that "The input from the school community is sought at an earlier stage of the process [than several years ago], and is taken very seriously at MCPS. Thus, no decisions have been made about the proposal by any entity, and no decisions will be made until after [the PTSA meeting now scheduled for February 16, 2010]."
Under Section 59-A-6.12(a) and (d) of the Zoning Ordinance, installation of a private telecommunications antenna on publicly owned land requires a special exception unless the antenna is proposed to be "attached to an existing structure owned or operated by a County ... agency." (Click this link to read the Zoning Ordinance.)
If a special exception is required, then the Montgomery County Planning Board reviews the application and makes a recommendation to the Board of Appeals. If a special exception is not required, then the Planning Board reviews the application and makes its recommendation to the County agency that owns the land (in this case: MCPS), which then makes the final decision on the application.
The Tower Committee's website (click here) explains the difference as follows:
Public Land - Private telecommunications antennas may be attached as a matter of right to an existing structure owned or operated by a county, bi-county, state or federal agency. If a carrier wishes to construct a new privately owned tower or monopole for the exclusive use of private telecommunications carriers on publicly owned land, a special exception is required. If the new tower or monopole will be used by a government agency, the application is submitted to the Planning Board rather than the Board of Appeals and the application goes through a public review process known as Mandatory Referral. Since this process is shorter (60 days maximum) and less costly than the special exception process, there is an incentive for applicants to work with government agencies to identify compatible uses with the government for facilities on public lands.
At a recent meeting of the Tower Committee, on April 1, 2009, with T-Mobile's attorney, Sean Hughes, present, an attorney from the County Attorney's Office confirmed:
... if a State or County agency wanted to construct a monopole for its own purposes, the proposed monopole would be reviewed through the Mandatory Referral process. T-Mobile, being a private entity, is subject to the County Zoning Code. Thus, they could attach to a public agency facility as permitting in 59-A-6.12 of the Zoning Code, but construction of a private use facility on public property would require approval of a Special Exception.(Click this link to access the minutes of the Tower Committee's April 1, 2009 meeting.)
At T-Mobile's November 17, 2009 presentation at Whitman High School, T-Mobile's attorney, Sean Hughes, said that a special exception was not required for the proposed cell tower. The facts, however, do not support this statement:
- Up until the light pole is taken down, it is an "existing structure," however, once the light pole is taken down, it is no longer in existence.
- T-Mobile's cell tower is an entirely new structure that will not only contain all the antennas but will also have athletic lights attached to it.
T-Mobile's application requires a building permit regardless of whether the application goes through the Mandatory Referral or special exception process.