Stop the Tower

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Letter to the editor, The Washington Times, 1/14/01

Tenleytown tower may be profitable, but it will cost residents too much

Robert Cooper, an attorney for American Tower Corporation, excoriated me and other neighbors opposed to construction of the Tenleytown tower ("Objections to the Tenleytown tower have no candlepower," Commentary Forum, Nov. 26). Mr. Cooper's diatribe was long on invective and short on insight or compassion.

And he wonders why his client is having trouble convincing people that it has their best interests at heart?

It's natural for people to express a keen interest in structures that someone else wants to build in their neighborhood. Savvy builders earn a neighborhood's trust so as to ensure that the neighbors will endorse their projects.

American Tower professes to care about neighbors, stressing on its Web site that it works closely with residents to create "win-win solutions." If it isn't really going to collaborate with neighbors (and in this case it didn't), it should do the honorable thing and remove this sentence from its Web site. It also should anticipate communities raising a ruckus when they learn they were never consulted.

A recent American Tower flier sent to every household in Ward 3 says its new tower will actually be replacing three currently standing towers. In fact, two of these towers already have been demolished. The company's statement, however, has left the impression among neighbors that it will tear down the two biggest towers still remaining on the block, which it doesn't even own.

For obvious reasons, many have grown leery of the company's pronouncements.

Mr. Cooper mocks residents' concern about ice. That's a shame, since the issue is real. Ice from great heights can injure or kill. Last year in Chicago, a family settled a $4.5 million lawsuit after a chunk of ice crushed a man's skull and vertebrae, killing him on the spot. The family's lawyer told USA Today that his office is almost always handling a case involving falling ice.

Ice has smashed car windshields near several of our area's larger towers. The WRC and Georgia Avenue towers cordon off part of their lots in the winter to prevent any further mishaps. The proposed tower, however, hasn't any lot to block off. It's wedged between buildings, abuts the sidewalk and looms over busy thoroughfares. Those of us who walk, drive or work beneath the tower are entitled to question its illogical location.

Mr. Cooper portrays my neighbors and me as a wealthy, self-serving, power-mongering elite. Although I don't know Mr. Cooper, I do know that he is a lawyer working on a high-profile case and a former commissioner of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission; I'm a free-lance writer unengaged in politics. Which of us is closer to the levers of power? Should I disregard his opinions for the same reasons he so readily dispenses with mine? Or shall we engage as citizens and equals who happen to disagree?

Mr. Cooper accuses me of NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) myopia. Has he visited our area lately? Our back yard is littered with towers. Four of the five tallest towers in the District are in Ward 3. American Tower's structure would be the fifth tower over 400 feet tall in Ward 3. How about someone else's back yard for a change?

These towers serve the whole metropolitan area; the region ought to share responsibility for housing antennas and other high-tech structures. Of course, Mr. Cooper is right that people should be free to earn a profit. But here's the rub: not at the expense of others. Building healthy communities requires promoting responsible growth.

With luck, Mr. Cooper will refrain in the future from demonizing people and stick with the issues. Everybody wins when people engage in civil and constructive discourse.


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