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Item in The Washington Post, Metro section, 3/18/06

Steel "Monstrosity" in Tenleytown to be Dismantled

District to Pay Builder $350,000, Ending 5-Year Fight Over Tower

By Paul Schwartzman

For more than five years, the people of Tenleytown fought the tower.

They prodded the District to block it when it was partially built, but for the next half-decade it loomed over the shops and restaurants along Wisconsin Avenue NW -- a 281-foot steel eyesore.

Yesterday, the people of Tenleytown won the battle.

In a legal settlement applauded by residents, the District has agreed to pay American Tower Inc. $350,000 to demolish the hulking structure.

"Every day, walking by was a constant reminder that we had to see to it that this was dismantled and eradicated from view," said Timothy Cooper, president of the Stop the Tower Coalition and a neighborhood resident.

"Now that this will happen, we can all be grateful," he said.

Mary Abate, a trial lawyer who lives a half-mile from the site, described the tower as "overpowering and menacing" and said it seemed out of place in a neighborhood of low-rise buildings, restaurants and two public schools.

"I am elated," she said.

American Tower, which started construction in 2000, has until March 26 to apply for demolition permits, under the terms of the settlement, which was reached Thursday and announced by the city yesterday.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), in a statement, said he has told his staff to help the Boston company obtain the permits so the demolition "can proceed quickly."

"I am pleased that this protracted dispute has been settled--I know that many Tenleytown residents have been waiting for years for a resolution to this case," Williams said.

Lori Philbin, an American Tower spokeswoman, did not return calls. And Robert Cave, a lawyer representing the company in the dispute, declined to comment.

American Tower filed a $250 million lawsuit against the District in 2000 after the Williams administration, pressured by neighborhood residents, revoked its building permit. The city cited several mistakes in the permitting process.

A federal judge dismissed American Tower's suit, prompting the company to file an unsuccessful appeal before eventually engaging in settlement negotiations.

American Tower had obtained permits to build a $5 million tower that would reach a height of 756 feet at 41st Street near Wisconsin Avenue.

By the time work was halted, the structure was more than a third finished and joined two other communications towers within walking distance in the neighborhood.

But residents did not protest the two other towers because they were set back a considerable distance from roads and sidewalks. American Tower's structure, on the other hand, was erected just off 41st Street.

"This was to be more than 700 feet high, and it would have been within feet of the sidewalk," Cooper said. "People were afraid of falling ice."

Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), whose district includes Tenleytown, had called for a moratorium on cellular towers. She said that she was delighted by the settlement and that she eagerly anticipated "the day when that unsightly monstrosity is taken down. The community has been waiting for this for six years."

But not everyone applauded.

The tower is only yards from Wisconsin Avenue, where the manager of at least one establishment fretted that the demolition would make it inconvenient for customers coming and going.

James Oberg, manager of the Dancing Crab, said that he was never so offended by the tower's appearance and that he views it as a kind of neighborhood landmark, a way to easily find his restaurant.

"I think it will hurt business, and it will be horrible," Oberg said. "I don't think it's that bad."

But Cooper said almost the entire neighborhood--"99.9 percent"--finds nothing redeeming in the tower.

"The will of the people has spoken," he said. "Their wish has been fulfilled, and they will be rejoicing."

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