A plan to install a 117-foot cellular-telephone antenna in the middle of the wealthy Tantallon neighborhood has met with much residential static in that Prince George's County community.
Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems Inc. (BAMS) has asked the zoning hearing examiner to grant a special exception so that the company can erect the tower as part of its expanding mobile phone system in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.
A staff report recommended that the zoning exception be denied, saying that the antenna would tower over existing 50- and 60-foot-high trees in the area and "impair the use and enjoyment of adjoining dwellings."
Residents are also worried that the tower would interfere with their already marginal radio and television reception, a fear the cellular telephone developers say is unwarranted.
On Wednesday, a public hearing will take place on the issue and, depending on the outcome, the case will then go to the County Council for appeal or approval.
BAMS already has 32 similar towers "up and operating in the Washington area," including four in Prince George's County, according to Harry H. Fischer, its general manager for systems design and real estate.
The highest structure is at Dulles International Airport, where the company bought a bankrupt AM radio station and is using one of its three transmitting towers, Fischer said.
In addition to some 35 tower sites now under consideration in the corridor, BAMS is already transmitting in Prince George's from towers at Jericho Road in Bowie; Brightseat Road in Landover; Powder Mill Road in Beltsville, and Chew Road in Upper Marlboro. In addition to the Tantallon site, BAMS also has a zoning application pending for a tower site on Queen Anne Bridge Road in Mitchellville.
During earlier public hearings on the Tantallon tower, the telephone firm said its tower in use on the Bullis School property in Potomac for over a year is an example of an upper-income neighborhood -- similar to Tantallon -- that has not been adversely affected by a tower.
Besides the 117-foot antenna tower and platform, the proposed structure would include a one-story 336-square-foot equipment building and a seven-foot chain-link security fence topped with three strands of barbed wire. The tower would be 19,855 feet from Friendly Airport, but would not require flashing night lights to warn away airplanes because it is less than 200 feet high.
The tower would be built to withstand winds of up to 100 m.p.h., according to a report by Anderson and Hastings Consulting Engineers Inc. of Denver.
The telephone firm agreed to add gables and otherwise modify the design of the maintenance and equipment building so it would blend more readily with adjacent homes.
Bell representatives said the communities of Friendly, Gallant Green, Grosstown, Mount Vernon, Piscataway, Silesia, Welcome and Windsor Estates will suffer "a degradation of service if the cell site is not built." But citizens said many of these areas have fewer than 100 residents, so high demand for cellular telephone service is unlikely.
But elsewhere, cellular phones are big business, according to testimony before the zoning board. Los The Bell Atlantic group silenced some of its loudest opposition earlier this month when it agreed to not to build any structures other than the telephone transmitter tower on the 7.6-acre site. Angeles has some 20,000 subscribers, while the Chicago and New York metro areas have about 15,000 and 12,000 customers respectively.
Fischer would not estimate the number of BAMS customers in the Washington area, but said the telephone "cell" it wants to install in Tantallon could handle 60 simultaneous conversations.
Telephone calls can be made from anyone with a mobile phone to anyone else similarly connected in their car or boat, he said.
The cellular systems are popular with firefighters and police -- especially undercover officers on raids who don't want to risk detection by using open radio transmissions -- paramedics and other people on the move.
The Bell Atlantic group silenced some of its loudest opposition earlier this month when it signed an agreement with the Tantallon Citizens Association not to build any structures other than the telephone transmitter tower on the 7.6-acre site.
Under the current rural residential zoning, "we could put 17 houses there, but we agreed to keep it all green acres if we get approval for the tower," Fischer said.
"There is no question but that the tower will be seen," said Ronald D. Schiff, the lawyer representing Tantallon residents.
The land where the tower would be located is on a high plateau on the north side of Fort Washington Road, about 800 feet east of Old Fort Road and just south of Tantallon Country Club.
Fischer said his company explored nine alternative sites -- including one at a Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission water tower -- but either could not get landowners to agree to construction or the sites were unsatisfactory from a engineering standpoint.
But Schiff said aesthetics are less of a concern than interference with television and radio reception, especially in the Piscataway Hills, Captain's Cove and Washington Estates subdivisions.
Fischer said that while the Bell Atlantic firm has done no specific studies of how television reception would be affected, they said they have gotten no complaints from the areas where their other towers are.
Residents are afraid their sets will get "snow" or "ghosting" effects if the tower is built.