Maryland City Leaders Prepare for a Fight Over Small Cells

A coalition of local officials gathered at the Municipal League dinner to strategize about the upcoming legislative session and the need for more local control over zoning and the placement of small cell antennas.

by Samantha Hogan, The Frederick News-Post / December 7, 2018
Shutterstock

(TNS) — The annual Maryland Municipal League dinner in Frederick County is a time to claim titles.

Mayor John Kinnaird contends Thurmont is the best municipality, and Mayor Michael O’Connor argues that the city of Frederick is the biggest, if the title of best is already taken. All the while, Mayor Winslow F. Burhans III asserts that New Market is the best per capita.

Myersville Mayor Wayne Creadick put an end to the debate, declaring, “We’re all the best.”

The title may be disputed, but the mayors and burgesses gathered together on Wednesday, because they know the unified voice of all the state municipalities gets laws passed in Annapolis. During the 2019 General Assembly session, the group will put all its support behind one legislative priority, which is to preserve local zoning authority and siting of small cellphone towers.

“The municipalities are asking for simple authority to say where these towers are put,” Creadick said.

The strong stance on small cellphone towers — which can be attached to utility poles or buildings to boost the fifth-generation wireless network in a geographic area, also known as 5G — is borne out of a Federal Communications Commission order this year that shortens the review period and caps the fees local governments can charge. The order is being challenged in court.

For some municipalities, the work is proactive, as they have not received any applications to install the technology. For others, such as Thurmont, it is in response to an ongoing situation.

“We haven’t had any issues, to be honest with you,” Kinnaird said before the meeting.

Thurmont’s Planning and Zoning Commission reviews each 5G application, and the town has turned down a few, he said. The company generally selects a new location, after it has been denied.

However, there is fear that the federal order and expected legislation this session from telecommunications lobbyists could lessen local governments’ ability to control the location and aesthetics of this new technology.

The town of Mount Airy is supportive of the priority, and hopes the House of Delegates will stand with the towns to keep control of small cell towers local, said Councilman Bob King.

“We’d be against any state mandates,” said Mount Airy Mayor Pat Rockinberg.

©2018 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.