City of Takoma Park. (Courtesy Photo)

TAKOMA PARK — The Takoma Park City Council moved closer to resolving the placement of small cell antennas and the designation of Takoma Junction development funds for public housing Wednesday evening.

With the future deployment of 5G small cell antennas around Montgomery County, the Takoma Park City Council voted Wednesday to amend the city’s permitting process governing the installation of the future technology.

“We want to state very clearly what our intent is with the ordinance,” Mayor Kate Stewart said at the Dec. 5 meeting. “We’re working to pass a resolution before … the FCC guidelines go into effect and … before our legislature go into session because, as last session, it is likely that they will be lobbied by the telecommunications companies.”

“We want to make sure they don’t put in any laws that further preempt our authority any more than it’s already being preempted,” she added.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 prohibits states, counties, and municipalities from legally challenging the Federal Communications Commission on potential health effects or other hazards that wireless technology may pose.

Newly-inaugurated County Executive Marc Elrich promised the County would join a lawsuit challenging the FCC on failing to carry out a health study before the deployment of small cell towers.

Proposed changes to the city code, which the Council voted on in a first reading, would favor the installation of the antennas on existing Pepco-owned utility poles, limit the antennas’ size and visual impact, and require that electromagnetic frequency emissions meet federal standards with annual testing.

Additional changes would implement a $40 right-of-way work permit and require the permittee to restore the right-of-way to its original condition while eliminating the charge per linear foot for disturbances.

During the same evening, the City Council voted, in a second reading, to designate the revenues from the Takoma Junction development to direct to the city’s Affordable Housing Reserve, which is designed to provide funds to achieve the Council’s affordable housing goals.

Since 2014, the City and the Neighborhood Development Company, a Washington, D.C.-based architecture firm, have worked to redevelop the Takoma Junction lot, located at the intersection of Grant, Carroll, and Ethan Allen Avenues. In July, the City Council voted to approve the project, currently consisting of a two-story mixed-use office and retail building with an underground garage.

Debates about the project caused several City Council meetings to stretch past 1 a.m., after almost three hours of public comments both in opposition and in support of the project.

Cynthia Mariel, a Ward 2 resident, who consistently opposed the redevelopment plans, commented on the ordinance, saying, “I want to ensure that never ever in the history of this city is there ever a reference ‘this building at the junction was built in order to accrue for affordable housing.’”

“The commitment of this city to affordable housing, needs to be a commitment unattached to the building of that [Takoma Junction] building,” she added.

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