Stop the Tower

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Item in The Northwest Current, 3/9/05

Tear down this tower, regulators tell owner

Elizabeth Wiener

Roughly four-and-a-half years afer a controversial telecommunications tower was partially erected in Tenleytown, city regulators have ordered it to be removed.

In a letter last month, the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affair[s] gave American Tower Inc. 90 days to remove the structure that still sits surrounded by a chain-link fence at 4623 41st St., just off Wisconsin Avenue and near the busy shops and restaurants of Tenleytown.

"Because the structure constitutes a public nuisance, you hereby are requested to remove the structure within 90 business days (including Saturdays) of your receipt of this notice," says the Feb. 18 letter from zoning administrator Toye Bello.

Failure to do so will result in "this matter" being forwarded to the D.C. Office of the Attorney General for possible criminal and civil enforcement, states the notice of violation.

Robert Cave, a Washington attorney who has been representing the Boston-based tower company in its fight with the District government, said Tuesday that he had no comment on the new order.

The half-built tower, as Bello notes in his letter, "stands uncompleted and unused" on the construction site, topped by a forlorn and faded flag, which was placed there to warn off approaching aircraft after city regulators shut the project down in the fall of 2000.

The tower was erected on what the company referred to as "broadcast hill," one of the highest points of the city, adjacent to an old Western Union tower and several other shorter broadcast towers that are still in use. But American Tower's planned 756-foot radio tower and antenna would have been substantially taller and broader than its neighbors, and it provoked an immediate outcry.

In October 2001, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs issued final orders rescinding the original building permits, saying they were issued in error on various zoning grounds. Since then, American Tower has waged a long legal battle against the city, as one point asking as much as $250 million in damages, but losing at every turn.

A U.S. District Court judge threw out the case, saying it raised no federal questions. The Board of Zoning Adjustment and the D.C. Court of Appeals both ruled against the company, variously rejecting American Tower's pleas for rehearing or reconsideration.

Bello's letter recites the entire history of the tower saga, inclusing an arcane note that the tower - even half-built - is currently violating city zoning law because of an inadequate side yard. It also indicates American Tower can request an extension of time to tear [down] the tower if it supplies a completion date and "specific plan for completion."

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