The Maryland Municipal League’s sole legislative priority for the 2019 General Assembly session is preserving local authority over cell towers.
According to MML, recent action on the federal level “threatens” towns’ and cities’ control over the siting and aesthetics of that infrastructure.
“The Federal Communications Commission recently adopted an order that pre-empted local governments in several areas of the small-cell field, primarily placing a cap on application fees as well as right-of-way access and pole attachment charges and shortening the time which a small cell application must be processed, also known as ‘shot clock,’” MML explains on its website.
Located in Annapolis, MML is a nonprofit, nonpartisan association founded in 1936. The group works to “strengthen and support” municipal governments through “advocacy and the development of effective leadership.”
MML represents 157 municipalities, including all eight of Garrett County’s. Mountain Lake Park Mayor Don Sincell is vice president of the Allegany-Garrett Chapter.
He said the cell tower issue was discussed at the chapter’s November meeting.
“The matter is indeed of great concern to most of our municipalities,” Sincell said, “as this utility is basically allowed to totally circumvent local zoning regulations from the towns when it comes to installing the equipment they want. We saw a number of photographs of such installations in some Maryland towns that were not only unsightly, but also posed safety hazards.”
A bill was introduced during the 2018 General Assembly on behalf of the wireless communications industry. According to MML, Senate Bill 1188/House Bill 1767 sought to streamline and make uniform local permitting and installation of small cell facilities.
“In reality, the bill pre-empted local governments in almost every aspect, including important safety and aesthetic components such as zoning and right-of-way access,” the MML website states.
The bill — introduced by Sen. Thomas Middleton of Charles County and Del. Dereck Davis of Prince George’s County — was never scheduled for any hearings. Middleton was defeated in his bid for re-election, but Davis will return to the House when the General Assembly reconvenes next Wednesday.
Following the 2018 session, according to MML, the association, Maryland Association of Counties, Baltimore City and wireless communication companies held “good faith discussions” to find a “path forward.” The discussions are ongoing, even though MML anticipates another bill will be introduced in this year’s General Assembly.
“I suspect that if there is legislation introduced, the MML will organize ‘mass attendance’ of its members to testify for or against the legislation, depending upon whether it endorses or opposes the industry’s desires,” Sincell said.
Friendsville Mayor Spencer Schlosnagle, a former MML president, said he and other association board of director members will receive a briefing about this and other legislative issues on the General Assembly’s opening day.
“MML hosts a reception for all the legislators in downtown Annapolis at the Governor Calvert House,” Schlosnagle said.
This article originally ran on wvnews.com.