As Bethesda Now reported last week, Washington Gas is planning a 145-foot communications tower in the center of their property on Nebel Street, at the edge of the White Flint sector. The primary purpose of the tower is to improve Washington Gas’ communications, particularly in times of emergency. They are also open to leasing space on the tower to at least two cell providers.
When this project was announced at this month’s White Flint Implementation Committee Meeting, a ripple of concern moved through the attendees so I spoke with Antonio Ancona, the engineering consultant designing the plan, to gather more information. As noted at the meeting, Washington Gas’ land is zoned as Industrial, so they can build this kind of tower as a matter of right after an abbreviated approvals process. The tower will be a free-standing monopole and is not expected to have any illumination, either from the ground or at the top. The final say on lighting, however, comes from the FAA. Mr. Ancona is not familiar with the redevelopment of the White Flint Sector, and has not visited the site itself, but feels strongly that, unless the tower is in your backyard, you won’t notice it. And, once you’re 1,000 feet away, it becomes part of the background.
I asked Mr. Ancona whether radiation from the pole is a concern and he confidently said, “no.” The poles emit very little radiation, not much more than we experience in daily life, and the majority of it comes from a directional dish at the top of the pole. Though Mr. Ancona was not aware of the mixed-use plans for the surrounding properties, and accompanying high-rise buildings, he assured me that the negligible radiation emitted from the tower will not penetrate building walls and reminded me that these towers are part of our lives now. Cell service is crucial to everyday life and having reliable service requires saturation of these towers.
The approvals process may take anywhere from a few months to a year. At this time, the FCC and FAA are looking at the plan. The FCC is looking at the surrounding network for conflicts; the FAA is looking at how a tower of this height might impact flight paths (none expected). The plan will then come to the County for approval. We will keep you posted as we learn more.