Item in The Northwest Current, 4/18/01
Tower firm stirs queries with talk of accord
Officials of the American Tower Co. last week expressed hopes of reaching a compromise with neighbors that would pave the way for the District to permit completion of the 756-foot telecommunications tower in Tenleytown that is now the subject of a court battle.
"There may be some common ground for agreement," attorney James Michal said at the end of an often contentious meeting where residents peppered company officials with questions.
The session marked the first time that American Tower Co. met with the advisory neighborhood commission. Construction began last summer on the tower, the culmination of a building permit review process that began in March 1999.
The absence of overtures earlier in the process led to overt suspicion of the latest attempt, which comes in the midst of the company's efforts to overturn the District's decision to revoke the building permit.
"The approach this late in the game raises the question why," said Damien Didden, a Tenleytown resident active in the Stop the Tower Coalition. "Is it PR or a genuine effort at negotiation?"
Michal said he would like to work with two to three neighborhood representatives to find some agreement, suggesting that the company could reduce the number of antennas on the tower or could work with the owner of an antenna in the midst of the nearby residential neighborhood to move it to the new tower.
The company officials also presented sketches of several alternative designs for a two-, three- or five-story fašade that would limit views of the tower from 41st Street.
Commission chair Jill Diskan, whose district includes the site, suggested that Michal send a written request. A resident said such a meeting might not be appropriate in the midst of the court fight.
Company officials and their attorneys
"It went through agency review," Brennan said.
"Everything was proper.
In his presentation, Didden challenged that interpretation, adding that the court appeal alleges that a conspiracy deprived the company of a legally issued building permit. The heart of the conspiracy, Didden said dismissively, is that Mayor Anthony Williams met with his constituents and then took corrective measures to reverse an incorrect decision.
He argued that American Tower's business model
In such a business, he said, "you win some and you lose some. That's how it should be, and that's what's happening in this case."
Of the proposed fašade treatments, Didden said that the offer is
inadequate. "I think it's a low-ball offer," he said. "It
barely scratches the surface.
Looking back, company officials said they would likely have consulted
with the neighborhood earlier. Michal said he had recommended that the
company obtain the permit first for fear that residents might seek to
block construction by changing the regulations
"There have been instances where the applicant does not get a
fair shake before they make their case," he said. "We had to
make a judgment.
One by one, residents at the meeting
Resident Carol Tannenwald responded to the company's claims that zoning regulations require no setback in the commercial zone, a claim that was in dispute. Regardless of the law, Tannenwald said, property owners should not all push the envelope and infringe on the interests of the broader community.
"It doesn't mean you should come out to the edge of the street," she said.
As the 90 minutes of discussion drew to a close, commissioner Chris McNamara noted that the law did not require American Tower to come before the commission at all. He also expressed disgust with the tone of the discussion, which he said was characteristic of too many meetings between developers and affected residents.
"It's usually not good dialogue. It's usually not constructive," he said.
McNamara dismissed the company's efforts to describe the new tower as more visually pleasing than the three towers of various sizes previously on the site. But he also agreed with the company's suggestion that someone in the neighborhood might well have sought to change the regulations if the company had made overtures early on.
But he said he sees the seeds of a compromise. "I think something can be worked out," McNamara said.
Commissioner Frank Gordon was less sure. He asked whether the company could reduce the height of the tower. Company official Bob Morgan described the height of the antennas, and therefore the height of the tower, as crucial.
"It may be a dream to think the neighborhood or you would consider a compromise," Gordon told company officials.