After not receiving any requests for several years, Montgomery County Department of Parks received 15 applications from cellular phone companies to place new towers in county parks during 2013, leading officials to restructure the application process.
On Thursday, the Montgomery County Planning Board unanimously approved a policy with updated procedures for telecommunications on park property.
Michelle Grace, acting park property manager at the county’s Department of Parks, told the board the measure was needed to streamline and clarify the process for both staff and applicants, especially with application activity on the rise.
“I think it will help both parks and planning staff to understand what’s going on when these carriers knock at the front door,” Grace said at the meeting.
According to a Feb. 27 memo from Grace and Facilities Management Division Chief James Poore to the planning board, the department had received 15 requests from cell carriers to install towers since April 2013.
“We have been told by the carriers that demand for connectivity to high speed and additional capacity for the delivery of advanced 4G wireless services to county residents is increasing,” Grace said in an email to The Gazette.
In the absence of an updated policy, park staff has been following procedures that were approved back in 1997.
“This will clarify the procedures when a carrier contacts Parks to site telecommunications facilities on park property,” Grace said in the email.
Under the new measure, leases for telecommunications facilities on park property are not executed until the applicant obtains all necessary approvals and permits. The policy includes a flow chart that more clearly outlines the application process for all involved.
One of the new elements in the policy is that applicants are now required to pay a $1,500 non-refundable application fee. Once the tower is constructed, the tenant must pay a rental fee based on the location and age of the structure.
“The fee is new and will aid in recovering administrative and operational costs to appropriately evaluate applications from private carriers,” Grace said in the email.
Three wireless carriers — Verizon, AT&T and Sprint — currently maintain several lease agreements for cell tower and antenna facilities on three park property sites in Silver Spring. Wheaton Regional Park, 2000 Shorefield Road; Blair Local Park, 51 University Blvd. E.; and National Capital Trolley Museum, 1313 Bonifant Road, each have one cell tower on site. Three of the wireless carriers share space on two of the three towers.
Planning board members reacted positively to the changes.
“This is a vast improvement,” Planning Board Vice Chairwoman Marye Wells-Harley said. “I think it’s a lot easier to understand what the process is.”
Planning Board Chairwoman Francoise Carrier said she agreed with Wells-Harley’s comment.
After the board’s vote of approval, Carrier ended the discussion with one last note.
“Alright, be careful where you put those towers,” she said.