County Council Considers Bill Allowing Broadcast Studios To Set Up Large Satellite Dishes

Legislation would be needed for Fox 5’s move to Bethesda


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Screen capture of County Council committee discussing a satellite dish proposal.

VIA MONTGOMERY COUNTY GOVERNMENT

A County Council committee on Monday advanced legislation that would allow broadcast studios to place large satellite dishes on building rooftops.

The legislation sponsored by Council member Nancy Floreen would be necessary for the arrival of the Fox 5 newsroom in downtown Bethesda, according to a council staff attorney. While county zoning law limits dish antennas on buildings to eight feet in diameter, the measure would create an exemption so that broadcast studios could set up antennas of up to 22 feet in diameter.

“You can lay three zoning attorneys end to end in that,” senior legislative analyst Jeff Zyontz quipped.

All three members of the council’s planning, housing and economic development committee agreed to move the legislation forward.

The county’s current rooftop antenna standards were adopted in 2014 as part of a larger zoning ordinance rewrite, and a representative of County Executive Ike Leggett argued they are “overly restrictive.” Sonny Segal, the county’s director of technology services, said the current rules would prohibit the antennas now used by the Discovery Channel, Comcast SportsNet and Hughes Network Systems.

“It is important that we encourage these communications companies to locate in our County. Therefore, the provisions for rooftop antennas require additional flexibility,” Segal wrote in submitted testimony.

The Fox 5 duopoly, sister stations WTTG and WDCA, earlier this year announced plans to move its studio, newsroom and 200 employees to the 290-foot office tower under construction at 7272 Wisconsin Ave. The move into the high-rise, which is on the former Apex building site, is expected to take place in June 2021.

While no one from the station testified earlier this month on Floreen’s legislation, a land-use attorney who has represented the Apex developers spoke in support of the measure.

On Monday, the council committee decided not to insert language that would restrict the 22-foot antennas to buildings taller than 200 feet. Zyontz and Leggett’s office had recommended including this restriction to ease the visual impact of large satellite dishes.

However, Floreen said many large mechanical structures are installed on building rooftops.

“Why are we troubled about a satellite dish?” she asked.

In an email following the meeting, Zyontz wrote that he doesn’t yet know when the bill will reach the full council for a vote.

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