Stop the Tower

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Item in The Northwest Current, 3/22/06

District, company reach accord to bring down tower

Elizabeth Wiener

The half-built telecommunications tower that has loomed over Tenleytown for more than five years should soon start coming down. City officials last week announced a settlement to the prolonged dispute that has left the ungainly metal structure standing--unused--at 4623 41st St. since 2000.

Under the settlement, Boston-based American Tower Co. will drop a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the city. The city will withdraw an order filed about a year ago to dismantle the tower or face prosecution, and it will pay the tower company $350,000 in unspecified damages.

City officials said they are pleased with the agreement, which they termed "fair and equitable to all concerned," according to the mayor's office. A spokesperson for American Tower, the apparent loser in the deal, refused to offer any substantive comment.

The saga began in September 2000 when residents noticed a large new tower sprouting near the corner of Brandywine Street and Wisconsin Avenue, among other communications towers on what some have labeled Broadcast Hill. But judging by the size of its base, it would clearly be the tallest when completed--756 feet.

After an outcry from many Tenleytown residents, city regulators said they had erred in approving the tower, halted construction and rescinded the building permits.

American Tower launched a publicity campaign and filed a $250 million lawsuit against the city. A federal judge threw out the claims, but the threat of massive damages remained.

In February 2005 the city Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs launced a counterattack of sorts, giving the company 90 days to remove what it termed "a public nuisance" and threatening to forward the matter to the D.C. attorney general for possible criminal or civil enforcement.

Instead, the company's attorneys went to D.C. Superior Court and quickly won an injunction preventing the agency from enforcing that order. Since last fall, the case has languished while--behind the scenes--attorneys worked out the settlement announced last week.

Under the settlement agreement, American Tower must apply for demolition permits within the next week or so. The city will "assist in the process ... facilitating the permitting process so that this can proceed quickly," according to the statement from Mayor Anthony Williams.

The $350,000 in damages is not specifically directed to cover demolition costs, according to Traci Hughes, spokesperson for the D.C. Office of the Attorney General.

Once American Towers dismantles the tower, both parties agree "to terminate all remaining legal proceedings," according to the mayor's statement.

American Tower spokesperson Lori Philbin would not comment on the company's losses or the fate of the small site where the tower now sits.

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