Council helps change that permits 5G antennas, Katz fearful

Most of the Montgomery County Council supports a zoning change to allow 5G antennas in residential areas across the county.

Councilor Hans Riemer has worked on this issue for about five years, arguing that small cell antennas provide better internet service for those who don’t have broadband or fiber optic cables in their homes.

Riemer and his colleagues discussed the proposal on Tuesday, as the amendment may finally reach a final vote in the coming months.

Another working session is planned for July 13th. A vote could take place the next time it is on the Council’s agenda. The council’s summer break is from August 2nd to September 12th.

In March, the Council’s Committee on Planning, Housing and Economic Development decided on several changes to Riemer’s proposal. Riemer heads this committee. The changes were:

  • Reduce the setback for antenna placement from 60 to 30 feet
  • Change the conditional use process for setbacks less than 30 feet. These would continue to require a public hearing at which neighbors could object to a proposed location. But appeals would skip the district’s appeals chamber and go straight to the district’s district court
  • There would be a “waiver and objection procedure” in which property owners within 100 meters of a planned antenna would be informed of all proposals
  • Prevent cell phone companies from placing masts less than 50 feet apart

Riemer said during Tuesday’s council meeting that Montgomery County must act quickly to allow 5G technology, boost job creation in the area, and provide internet access to residents who don’t have and need it.

“This zoning change is really about whether Montgomery County, one of the leading scientific counties in the world, is using technology,” said Riemer.

Overall, 5G networks require smaller devices and can be placed closer together to create a more robust, faster network, compared to 4G towers, which often extend hundreds of feet in the air and are more distant.

The small-cell antennas for 5G can also be placed on existing power poles or similar infrastructure. Overall, it offers higher speeds for higher amounts of data transfer than 4G technology.

Several council members agreed that some changes are needed to bridge the digital divide between more rural and urban communities and between richer and poorer communities.

Councilor Nancy Navarro said the issue has a long, contentious history. Some community members have decidedly against 5G cell towers and antennas. indicates that they will have harmful effects on health.

Local residents have argued that 5G antennas emit radio frequency waves that could cause cancer, autism, and attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder. They have previously cited a 2018 study from the National Toxicology Program, based at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which showed that extremely high doses of radio frequency radiation – the transmission of energy from radio waves – have been linked to cancerous heart tumors in male rats.

However, several health organizations have denied the allegation of negative health effects.

The National Cancer Institute explains Radio waves are non-ionizing, which means they don’t have the energy to break DNA and cause cancer. The World Health Organization has said that radio frequency radiation is “potentially carcinogenic,” but that term also applies to talcum powder and ginkgo extract.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Navarro said the pandemic had shown the need for 5G technology. It also shows the injustices regarding those who have access to new technology and those who do not have access to new technology, she added.

“Those who will suffer the most if we are not serious about opportunity or access to opportunity will undoubtedly be many of our low-income residents … [and] many of them are colored people, ”said Navarro.

Councilor Craig Rice said he had personally dealt with internet connectivity issues for the past year and a half while living in Darnestown.

The new 5G technology enables rural areas to access high-speed internet where cable networks are too expensive to expand, Rice said.

“It’s not an ideology from heaven,” said Rice. “This is something that is just ahead of us. And if we don’t move and don’t make sure that our residents have this connectivity option, we’re doing our residents a disservice. “

Sidney Katz was the only council member who raised concerns about the proposed change.

In an interview, he said he was concerned that companies building 5G antennas and masts might focus on serving urban areas more than the county’s agricultural reserve, a more rural part of the county.

“We know that the Ag reserve had real problems with the cell phone [service] and being involved in Zoom calls and so on and I would like to know if the industry would commit to putting these towers, these cell towers, first where we have these problems, ”said Katz.

He is also concerned about potential health effects, as 5G towers will be much lower compared to 4G antennas located on tall buildings or higher in the air.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at

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