Fall update

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by Dave Humpton

The passing of former MVF Board member Jim King
I received the sad news that long-time resident and former MVF Board member Jim King, who was dedicated to his community, passed away on October 17 after a long illness. He and his wife, Senator Nancy King, have contributed so much to Montgomery Village over the years. Jim had a quick wit and was always full of suggestions about how to make things better. He will be missed!

Recreation and Parks Strategic Plan
New Recreation and Parks Director Duncan Mullis has initiated a strategic planning process with the goal of establishing a clear, simple statement of actionable strategic priorities for the department over the next 5 years (2018-2023). The process will include a data and research-based assessment of our current positioning; identification of three to five broad strategic priorities of the departments/divisions and associated action plans for implementation; involvement of key stakeholder groups and individuals in the development; and review of strategic priorities. The MVF Board and Recreation Department will be invited to participate as the work is ongoing.

Resolution on Transportation Solutions for Northwest Montgomery County (M-83)
Pete Young testified on October 17 before the county council in support of a resolution that identifies transportation improvements in the upcounty, which do not include the build-out of the northern extension of M-83. In addition, the resolution directs the planning board not to assume additional road capacity from M-83 when calculating transportation capacity for development in the upcounty. The council is expected to vote on this matter by year end.

Small Cell Tower ZTA
The county continues to try to address how siting of small cell towers in county rights of ways will be addressed in the zoning ordinance in its latest draft of the ZTA. The text is available at this link: www.montgomerycountymd.gov/cable/Resources/Files/Towers/documents/ZTA-Telecommunications-tower_7-27-17.pdf.

In October 2016, at a spirited meeting at Ridgeview Middle School, residents raised many issues to county council members and staff regarding a council proposal to revise the process for approving cell phone towers, especially with regard to siting new shorter towers in residential areas. Applications for these small cell towers has alarmed residents who are concerned about the aesthetic and health impacts of these additional towers in their neighborhoods. These issues continued to be raised at public meetings held in July, September and October this year. 

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) statutes and regulations prohibit the county from enacting laws that have the effect of prohibiting wireless service, and require the county to act on applications much more quickly than the current process takes. The focus of the ZTA is on siting the new towers is on existing county rights-of-way. 

Private street rights-of-way in Montgomery Village communities will not be subject to the new provisions for siting and approval of small cell towers in the county right-of-way, but would be reviewed according to the zoning provisions applicable for towers on private property. 
Telecommunications providers who want to use the private street rights-of-way in Montgomery Village communities would have to first get the approval from the community association that owns the right of way. To put an antenna on an existing pole, such as a street light, the owner of the pole would also have to consent. The standard for the pole would be the limited use standard from the zoning code. To put a new pole in, the telecommunications provider would have to get the permission of the association owning the right of way, and then apply for a conditional use approval per the zoning ordinance.

An additional hurdle for telecommunications providers to overcome in Montgomery Village communities is that the communities have Public Utility Easements (PUE) covering use of the right-of-way. The significant features of a PUE provide that: each time a PUE is established, it is not granted to “utilities” generally, but to specific named utilities. If a company wishing to put up a cell tower is not a named utility in the grant of a PUE, they have no rights under the PUE.

Perhaps more importantly, the PUE has a clear and concise list of the improvements that may be constructed under the PUE. They include: (A) underground power transmission lines and aboveground transmission, switching, fusing and junction equipment; (B) underground communication lines and associated aboveground junction pedestals and terminals; and (C) gas transmission and distribution facilities. In other words, the PUE does not encompass cell towers. Finally, the PUE grants the named utilities the perpetual right to keep the property clear of buildings and structures. Staff will continue to monitor the proposed ZTA. 

Short Term Rental (Airbnb) Legislation Adopted
After more than a year and a half of review and revision, on October 10, the county council enacted ZTA 17-03 and Bill 2-16 to regulate short-term (less than 30 days) rentals in the county. The laws are in response to emerging patterns of rentals made possible by internet services such as Airbnb.
From the time the bills were introduced, MVF and many other community associations made the council aware of the potential harms to quality of life in neighborhoods from short-term rentals, including security, noise, and increased competition for parking.

The bills as passed include many provisions that will hopefully mitigate impacts on community associations. These include a requirement to provide a contact person if the owner is not present during the rental; a requirement to be in compliance with community association documents regarding rentals; requirement to notify neighbors that the property will be used for short-term rentals; a requirement to provide one off street parking space for each rental contract; and a limit of six adults as overnight guests per property.

To ensure that properties are not exclusively short-term rentals, owners must certify that the property is their primary residence in order to obtain a license for short-term rentals. An applicant for a license must also certify that he has provided notification of the application to the community association where the property is located. Property owners are encouraged to be present at the property when it is being used for short-term rentals, by a provision in the new law that restricts short-term rental use to no more than 120 days a year the owner is not present. 

The new laws take effect in July 2018. The county’s Department of Health and Human Services will have the responsibility for enforcement.