Since You Asked: Are the WMAL Radio Towers a Protected Historic Site?

Since You Asked: Are the WMAL Radio Towers a Protected Historic Site?

Questions and answers about the Bethesda area

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Three of the WMAL radio transmission towers at Greentree Road

Aaron Kraut

The WMAL transmitter property on Greentree Road in Bethesda is listed in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties. Does that mean it’s a protected site?

—A reader in Bethesda

This question refers to the 328-home neighborhood proposed for the property that’s under review by Montgomery County planners. The 75-acre Greentree Road site, which includes four WMAL radio towers, several satellite dishes and an unmanned transmitter building used to store equipment, is on the Maryland Historical Trust’s Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties.

The listing, prepared in 2000, says the radio transmitter equipment was originally put into service in February 1941 and “the property represents the mid-twentieth century trend of moving outdated urban transmission facilities into the suburbs to increase broadcast area and provide service to the growing number of listeners located in the suburbs.”

WMAL plans to abandon the transmission site and the property was put up for sale early last year. Toll Brothers, a Pennsylvania-based developer, was chosen to redevelop the site and put forth its first proposal in August.

Elizabeth Hughes, director of historical and cultural programs at the Maryland Department of Planning, said the inclusion of the property in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties “does not protect the property from demolition or alteration and is not likely to impact the housing development project moving forward.”

Hughes explained the inventory is a broad catalog of information on buildings, structures, sites and objects “of known or potential value” to the history and culture of Maryland. Some of the information in the inventory is minimally researched while some reports are very well researched, Hughes said.

While the inventory is often used as a basis for making decisions about a property’s eligibility for historic preservation, “inclusion in the inventory carries no regulatory protections or financial benefits,” Hughes said.

The site isn’t identified in Montgomery County’s Master Plan for Historic Preservation or listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Scott Whipple, supervisor of the Historic Preservation Unit at the county Planning Department, said the development proposal won’t require an historic review.

Have a question you’d like answered about someone or something in the Bethesda area? Email editorial@bethesdamagazine.com. Please include your name and the community in which you live.

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