Stop the Tower

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Item in The Northwest Current, 10/11/00

Company vows suit over tower permit

Chris Kain

Mayor Anthony Williams has drawn praise from local activists for pulling the building permit for the Tenleytown television tower, but the builder is vowing to file suit today to stop the revocation.

"It's been approved twice. It just makes no sense to me," said Bob Morgan, an official with American Tower Systems in charge of the 756-foot tower at 4623 41st St. He noted that city officials suspended the permit for a week last month before deciding it met legal requirements.

Morgan said in an interview Tuesday that the company would stop work at 5 p.m., as ordered in the District's revocation letter sent on Thursday. The company also delivered a response to District officials at 11:45 a.m., though officials said they did not expect the company's defense to sway the mayor.

Instead, Morgan said the company will file a lawsuit that names the District and city administrators, both officially and individually, as defendants.

"We'll start with the mayor," Morgan said. "There were 13 officials that were involved with this."

He said the damages will depend on how quickly the matter is settled. Morgan said the company already has $3 million to $4 million invested in the project and would sue for "several hundred million dollars" if they are ultimately denied the right to build the tower.

"This is a major ongoing business entity that would generate business and value for our company at this level," he said.

Opponents of the tower argue that the company is simply trying to frighten leaders into reissuing the permit. Tim Cooper, an organizer of the Stop the Tower Citizens' Coalition, said he believes the District has a strong case.

"The city has a very good defense," Cooper said. "When all is said and done, they'll have a substantial case. As an expert, the tower company should have understood the zoning irregularities that existed in that site. ... They never should have decided to build there."

Cooper praised the mayor for pulling the permit. Chief of staff Abdusalam Omer said Tuesday night that the revocation stands.

"There is no question," Cooper said. "It's a monumental civic victory."

Ward 3 Council member Kathy Patterson, who secured approval of legislation urging the mayor to revoke the permit, also challenged the validity of the lawsuit.

"You assume that the business is responsible for its own actions," Patterson said. "The District should not be liable for the mistakes of one or two employees."

She also questioned the alleged damages. "There is no income stream right now," Patterson said of the uncompleted tower. "There's no income source being revoked. There is a general rule of law that if you proceed on an activity that is in violation of the law, you do so at your own risk."

But the company's attorney, John Brennan, contends that the project does not violate the zoning regulations. He said it is a matter of right at the site, which, despite its proximity to residential areas, is zoned for commercial use.

In fighting the tower's continued construction, residents have cited concerns about zoning, aesthetics and safety, such as the danger of falling ice. Morgan said that the company would use the latest technology to reduce the danger, which he said would arise from any tall building or tower.

Residents have also raised broader concerns about the potential of non-ionizing radiation from the broadcast and cellular telephone antennas to cause cancer, noting the expected increase in antennas with the arrival of digital television.

"I think this is the lasting and deeper story here," Cooper said.

Residents also questioned why the District should have most of the television towers in the metropolitan area. Morgan said the company conducted a study that concluded Tenleytown was the best area to locate the tower, which he described as vital to accommodate new digital television antennas.

American Towers [sic] has agreements with WDCA-TV and WHUT-TV, as well as WHUR-FM, Morgan said.

"The tower is absolutely essential for the District because most of the television stations in the District do not have a place to put their digital antennas," Morgan said. "Most of the towers in the District are nearly full or at capacity."

Morgan said that the WUSA-TV and WJLA-TV towers nearby would remain. The new tower would replace the three that were on the site when American Towers acquired the property; two of those have already been torn down.

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