When Robert Quinichett built a contemporary house in Silver Spring a year and a half ago, he took pains with its "entertainment center," which features a big-screen television.
But when workers from a local company installed the huge, light-colored fiber glass satellite dish needed for the television, the 48-year-old financial investor said he was appalled.
"As you drove down the street, the first thing you saw was the satellite dish," Quinichett recalled recently. He told the workers to substitute a less obvious see-through black-wire mesh dish like the one on a neighbor's adjoining lot.
"From the street, you don't notice it even if you look for it," Quinichett said of the see-through dish, an antenna for receiving television signals from satellites, that now sits on his two-acre lot.
He said his experience "points out the need for restrictions in the county. Any time there is a potential eyesore for people who live in a neighborhood or who are driving by, I think there should be restriction on it. But I think it's not quite as simple as changing the color . . . ."
Neither do Montgomery County planners. On March 6, the five-member Montgomery County Planning Board will consider staff proposals to restrict the size and location of commercial and residential satellite dishes.
If the board approves the restrictions, they will be sent to the County Council as suggested amendments to the county's zoning laws. A public hearing will be held to give residents a chance to air their views. Currently, only a building permit is needed to install a dish, and there is no county restriction on size.
"We've had some satellite dishes located in the county that have created problems in the community by generating some complaints," said Joseph R. Davis, a planner with the Maryland National-Capital Park and Planning Commission, which includes the planning board.
Last month the Federal Communications Commission issued a ruling aimed at making it more difficult for state and local authorities to restrict or prohibit the dishes.
But Davis said the Montgomery proposals do not conflict with the FCC ruling, which allows local authorities to limit the size and location of such antennas in some instances.
"We're not saying make it invisible, we're saying try to make it more attractive by landscaping," he said. "We're creating a hierarchy of location -- you can't put it in your front yard.
"If you can't put it in your back yard, put it in the side yards. If not in the side yard, then you start putting it on the roof or on a pole.
" . . . We hope that the large antenna dishes become dinosaurs . . . but that's something in the future," Davis said.
In the meantime, the board will consider the following plan, similar to one adopted two years ago by the city of Gaithersburg: Dishes on roofs or on poles would be restricted to 3 feet in diameter. Ground-mounted dishes would be restricted to 10 feet in diameter and to back or side yards. Dishes in yards would be screened by a 4-foot-high hedges or by fences up to 6 1/2 feet high. The fences would have to be "sight tight" so that no one could see through them, Davis said. Dishes in commercial and industrial areas would be restricted to 15 feet in diameter, whether on the ground, on roofs or on poles. A screen also would be required.
"It's important to emphasize that we do have a special exception provision to be able to deal with situations where a larger dish is needed," such as areas of the county where smaller dishes fail to get all the available satellite channels, Davis said.
David Greenberg, general manager of Professional Products Inc. of Bethesda, the electronics company that installed Quinichett's antenna, said restrictions on the size of dishes may soon be moot. The newest satellite antennas are smaller and less obtrusive, he said.
" . . . Small ones exist already, it's technology that's in motion," Greenberg said. "To me it looks like the computer business looked yesterday -- you buy something, then you turn around and it's obsolete."
As for Quinichett, he said he's willing to go along with any restrictions the county might adopt.
"If a restriction were imposed upon the residents of the county and, if for some reason or other, my dish did not fit those restrictions, I'd certainly be willing to change it," he said. "I think it's only fair to the neighbors."