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Item in The Washington Post, 10/6/00

District Cancels Permit for Tower

Debbi Wilgoren

The District government last night revoked the building permit for a huge telecommunications tower under construction in Northwest Washington, a D.C. spokesman said. The highly unusual move to stop a half-built project could land the city in court.

The notice to rescind and cancel the building permit will be delivered this morning to attorneys for American Tower Systems, said Robert Henry, spokesman for the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The tower company received permission from the District six months ago to erect a 756-foot antenna tower in the 4600 block of 41st Street NW.

"We know we're going to take a financial hit on this one," Henry said. "We made a mistake, and we're going to pay for that mistake."

Company attorneys have said they would go to court to try to save the project.

After resident complaints prompted Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to try to stop the tower, city attorneys spent more than two days searching for inconsistencies in the permitting process on which to base their revocation.

Henry said the notice states that the $5 million project should have required an environmental impact study, which the city did not order. It also faults American Tower Systems for listing several company names on its application, at least one of which is not incorporated to do business in the District. The tower would be used for television, cellular phone and radio antennae.

Zoning and permitting officials approved the original application with little scrutiny, in part because of a mistake-riddled memo from the city planning office that wrongly described the tower as a replacement of a structure of similar size.

After construction began this summer and residents of the Tenleytown neighborhood voiced concerns about the tower's safety, city planners and Eric Price, deputy mayor for economic development, visited the site and concluded that the project was inappropriate for its location, adjacent to two restaurants and a busy sidewalk.

"We couldn't be more pleased," said Tim Cooper, one of the residents leading protests against the tower. "This is a triumph of grass-roots activism over careless bureaucracy."

Cooper and others had been told by government officials that the permit would be revoked by noon yesterday, and they had planned a late-afternoon news conference. But by the close of business, city attorneys were still huddled in their offices, and the anti-tower forces rescheduled their event for today.

Attorneys for the tower company also had been informed that a notice would be faxed to their office. As the hour grew late, they gave up and went home.

"We have a perfectly valid permit. ... But obviously the government thinks there's something wrong," said attorney John Brennan.

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