Stop the Tower

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Item in the Forum section, The Washington Times, 11/26/00

Objections to the Tenleytown tower have no candlepower

Bob Morgan's observations in his Oct. 23 Op-Ed article about the mayor's decision to revoke our tower's valid permit drew out the usual opponents and their unusual arguments. They deserve a response. Each in a unique way ignores the facts, ignores the law, and uses false alarms to conceal power politics. What better way to disguise your own political and property interests than to clothe them in concern for children? Timothy Cooper's lengthy letter in the Nov. 3 Forum shows a high degree of creativity and a low regard for facts. He lashed out at the government employees who approved the permit, accusing them of carelessness, a "faulty building permit" and "grossly flawed" permit processes. He then feigns surprise that American Tower did not know of these "problems," all of which are merely his creations.

For example, Mr. Cooper bemoans the lack of Board of Zoning Adjustment hearings and "democratic consent." The District of Columbia's lawyer, in federal court, has stated clearly and unequivocally that the tower is permitted as a matter of right under the zoning laws and that no BZA hearings or neighborhood consent were required. Mr. Cooper knows this because he attended the court hearing on Nov. 1. Yet, days later, he is still trying to peddle his claims about hearings and consent.

Mr. Cooper says the permit did not go through "the proper channels." That is false. The permit, which was studied and review by the District of Columbia for an entire year, went through precisely the proper channels. Judge Friedman recognized this in our recent hearing when he agreed with American Tower that nearly all of the government's positions in opposition to the tower were contrived.

The only "objection" to the tower that passes the laugh test is the Height Act question. Yes, we know the tower will be taller than the Washington Monument. So is every other broadcast tower in the city. Let's unwrap ourselves from those flags and start talking about today's technological realities. The mayor long ago delegated his authority under the Height Act to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Guess who approved the permit specifically for a 756-foot tower? The Department of Commerce and Regulatory Affairs Approved the permit. Remember the scene in "Casablanca" when the police inspector protested that he was "shocked" to find out there was gambling at Rick's, while quietly pocketing his winnings. The government's claim it is shocked that we are constructing a tall tower would be humorous if it were not so hypocritical.

Mr. Cooper reaches his most hysterical pitch trying to create a safety issue. Is he truly afraid of falling ice "instantly killing or maiming"? During the deep, frozen winters of the District of Columbia, is the ground beneath the tower of FOX, USA and the District of Columbia littered with dead or mutilated bodies? If so, it's escaped everyone's notice except Mr. cooper's.

Mr. Cooper then launches into his own version of the Children's Crusade. He is alarmed by the prospect of "radiation right into the classrooms" of nearby children. Lest the duller amongst us miss the point that tower opponents are morally superior, he then compares the communications industry to the tobacco industry.

Here are the facts. Mr. Cooper's assertion that studies on RF emissions have been done only the the telecommunications industry is simply false. This issue has been studied by federal and local governments, by international and national science and health agencies, and by numerous private institutions. The safety standard is a matter of federal law. The tower will meet that federal safety standard. Mr. Cooper gives his game away when he suggests that nothing should be done except upon the "precautionary principle." This is not a principle at all but a demand that absolutely nothing happen anywhere until it can be proven that no possible adverse consequence could result. Obviously, that standard is impossible to meet, which satisfies Mr. Cooper and other deep thinkers, since it means nothing will ever happen that they don't like.

What happened to American Tower is not a "cautionary tale" that would have "national implications," though Mr. Cooper may desire a broader stage than he presently has. This is about a politically vulnerable mayor reacting to the vociferous demands of a privileged handful of voters and revoking a valid building permit.

Laura Akgulian's Nov. 1 letter to the editor urges that American Tower "erred in its choice of a site and accordingly must dismantle the tower." Miss Akgulian also claims that "local zoning laws should have prevented" the tower. Again, local zoning laws specifically approved of building telecommunications towers in that area. What, precisely, is the error of putting a tower on high ground where broadcasting tower are already located and where zoning law says that broadcasting towers are a matter of right?

Miss Akgulian is at her most uninformed where she claims it "remains to be determined ... whether the company represented its intentions accurately in its permit application." Is she referring to the permit application filed in March 1999 and reviewed for more than a year, that fully and accurately disclosed a 581-foot tower topped by antennae rising to a total of 756 feet?

Miss Akgulian suggests that American Tower should simply talk to the community about a "win-win" solution. This is simply more of that "what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine" approach of the tower's political opponents. Here colleague Mr. Cooper declared to the media that nothing less than no tower at all is the solution. What exactly is the win for American Tower out of that?

Finally, Miss Akgulian retreats to the last refuge of NIMBYs [Not in My Backyard]--rumors of health concerns. There is simply no support for these claims. That's not a problem for tower opponents. They want to disregard the zoning laws and revoke the permit--any reason or no reason will do.

Damien Didden followed Miss Akgulian with a Nov. 3 letter to the editor setting forth his own curious inversion of facts and logic. First, he suggests American Tower is no friend of the District because it spent "only" $4 million on the tower, yet is suing for $250 million. One must suppose that, in Mr. Didden's mind, a good corporate citizen should simply forgo claims for future economic loss when activists like himself decide to shut its business down. Yes, we are suing for punitive damages. When government officials run roughshod over your legal rights for purely political reasons, that's what you have to do.

Mr. Didden says it is up to the court to determine the validity of the permit. We agree - the court must be involved, because the rule of law must prevail over political tantrums. American Tower, from the beginning, has believed the validity of the permit should not be determined by raw political exercises. Mr. Didden claims his group is the David of some David and Goliath struggle. The facts are that when a handful of Ward 3 complainers said jump, Mayor Anthony Williams asked, "How high?" A permit that had been issued after a full year of review, and that had been investigated and scrutinized after a stop- work order in September, was revoked because of political threats.

Mr. Didden repeats the baseless assertion that there was some sort of permitting error about which American Tower or its counsel should have known. Tower opponents must believe that if you repeat a falsehood enough, it becomes true. The facts are these: There was no "error" until Ward 3 politics intervened. The property American Tower owns, and much of the surrounding area, is zoned for broadcasting towers; the permit was issued after full disclosure and one year of scrutiny and review, and the permit was determined to be valid a second time after a stop work order was issued to determine compliance with all laws and regulations.

Mr. Didden and Mr. Cooper claim American Tower has 45 towers in D.C. That's news to American Tower, which has one other besides the Tenley tower. Of course, it would not serve their purpose to acknowledge the difference between telecommunications towers and rooftop antennae. Perhaps tower opponents think that if their cause is just, any misrepresentation is all right.

Mr. Didden seems horrified that American Tower is in this business for profit. It may be that, in his professional life, Mr. Didden is completely unconcerned about such tawdry matters as profit. Indeed, it may come as a shock to him that the pursuit of profit is a legitimate business goal and expectation. It should not come as a shock, however, that political decisions like the mayor's revocation of the tower permit are exactly what makes the District of Columbia fall further and further behind in attracting and keeping new business.

Jackson & Campbell, P.C.
Attorney for American Towers, Inc.

(Copyright 2000)


Laura Akgulian, letter to the editor, 1/14/01
Timothy Cooper, letter to the editor [unpublished], 12/00

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