Stop the Tower

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Letter to the editor, The Washington Times, 11/3/00

Tenley tower builder too big to be victim

I would like to respond to the Oct. 23 Op-Ed column "Politics towers above," written on behalf of American Tower Corp. by its vice president and general manager, Robert Morgan.

In its cry that the D.C. government has treated it poorly in revoking its permit to build a telecommunications tower in Tenleytown, American Tower has omitted some key facts:

The company has only spent $4 million on partial construction of this tower, yet it is suing the District for $250 million in taxpayer money. How can this company portray itself as acting for the benefit of D.C. residents with one hand while suing the taxpayers for a quarter of a billion dollars, including a whopping $100 million in punitive damages, with the other?

It is up to the judge, not American Tower, to determine whether its permit was issued validly and whether it violates federal height restrictions, setback limits or the numerous D.C. zoning laws governing structures such as this. Even if there were an error, no company can expect a gigantic cash windfall as a result of an honest mistake.

American Tower already owns and profits from more than 45 towers throughout the District, and its attorney, Robert Cooper, is a former member of an Advisory Neighborhood Commission. If there were an error, a company with that many existing towers in our city and expert lawyers versed in D.C. law and policy should have known it from the start.

American Tower would love to portray itself as the victim of the political clout of a few Ward 3 residents. This is laughable. Concerned residents vs. a multimillion-dollar corporation from another state and its expert lawyers--who is David and who is Goliath in this picture? Make no mistake, this Boston company does not seek to build a huge tower in Washington out of a sense of charity for our city. It is looking for profit and, as evidenced by Mr. Morgan's letter, is willing to play the tired game of D.C. division politics to get it. Its other claim, that the District is not business-friendly and is unwilling to embrace technology, seems disingenuous when one considers that the company already profits from 45 towers spread all over our city. Tenleytown already bears the burden of four enormous broadcast towers serving the entire metropolitan area, including Maryland and Virginia.

Towers might be a way to develop technology, but companies that would profit from them have an unequivocal duty to build them in a responsible way and with input from the community and the proper authorities. Jumping all over a permitting mistake is hardly the responsible approach.

Mr. Morgan's posture of indignant shock simply is not credible to anyone who considers that his first contact with the residents of Washington was looking at us down the barrel of a lawsuit. Indeed, it is the residents of Washington who are shocked, Mr. Morgan, when we see the disproportionate size of your project, when we hear about the money you are trying to take away from needed city resources, when we know that 45 of your towers already are in our city and when we read about your attempts to prey upon our city's already painful divisions, all for your company's profit.

Stop the Tower Citizens' Coalition
Chevy Chase

Other replies:

Laura Akgulian, letter to the editor, 11/1/00

Tim Cooper, op-ed piece, 11/5/00

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