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Item in The Northwest Current, 10/23/02

Residents, industry face off over antennas

Christen Aragoni

Representatives from the wireless industry stated opposition to proposed antenna regulations while neighborhood residents praised the Office of Planning's work at Zoning Commission hearings held Oct. 17 and 21.

The proposed regulations seek to overhaul the Zoning Commission's rules governing antennas, antenna towers and monopoles. The regulations consider issues of aesthetics as well as health and safety, but industry representatives claimed the new rules, if implemented, would be too restrictive.

"We took the approach that we wanted to use the maximum zoning authority," said Jennifer Steingasser, manager of the development review of the Office of Planning. "The industry representatives usually didn't agree with the Office of Planning."

Residents testifying last Thursday evening supported most of the proposed regulations and added suggestions. Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3C chair Nancy MacWood said the advisory commission supports the regulations' setback allowances but recommended that all antennas be prohibited in historic areas and that actual field measurements be used in determining health risks.

However, some industry representatives said such measurements would be time-consuming and costly.

Marija Hughes, representing the Columbia Plaza Tenants Association, said the proposed amendments are a step in the right direction but that the rules should include review of antennas every five years.

Zoning Commission member Peter May said the proliferation of dish antennas and their seeming violation of current regulations caused concern. "There are so many beautiful houses being defaced with these things being attached to the sides and fronts of houses," he added.

Steingasser said that many such issues stem from a lack of enforcement. The Office of Planning tried to survey surrounding jurisdictions, but none had addressed the issue of small, residential dishes, she added.

Although wireless providers have utilized flagpoles, tree poles, and other items such as bell towers to encase antennas, residents worried that the proposed rules would not do enough to regulate such stealth antennas.

"Washington is not just the national capital; it has influence throughout the world," Steingasser said. "We did take into account aesthetic impacts."

Although she said she could not guess how many towers would be needed in the future, Steingasser said she is confident that Washington would see an increased need for service. While industry leaders agreed with the increasing demand for wireless communication, they worried that the proposed rules would limit services in residential areas. One solution to this limitation, representatives pointed out, would be to build larger antennas in commercial areas.

Also causing consternation among the wireless group, particularly post-Sept. 11, is the need for reliable wireless communication.

"Since Sept. 11, the wireless community is viewed as a necessity, not a luxury," a representative from Nextel said.

The D.C. Office of the Chief of Technology Officer is working to improve broadcasting abilities, a representative from the office said. "The issue is we actually have a coverage crisis," he noted.

bulletDavid S. Rotenstein's FCC complaint (in Adobe Acrobat format)

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