Stop the Tower

Questions and answers about the Tenley tower

Why should DC residents oppose the tower?
Does DC really need the tower to keep its technology current and get HDTV?
Does the tower have to be so high?
Who is opposing the tower?
Does the proposed tower really comply with all the legal requirements?
Is the tower really safe, as American Tower Corporation of Boston insists?

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Why should DC residents oppose the tower?

"Egads! This thing is a monster! This is a fight worth fighting ... I've never seen anything this big and this intense on the East Coast ... There is no question that the Tenley tower (which is overpopulated) will substantially increase the radiative intensity around it."--Lou Vitale, Viatech

The proposed tower is totally out of scale with a residential neighborhood like Tenleytown. It is an esthetic disaster, massively out of proportion to the homes and businesses nearby, creating an intrusive and permanent blight.

The tower will endanger the hundreds of pedestrians, many of them school children, who walk along Wisconsin Avenue every day. It will be a hazard to every passing car and bus. Falling ice is just one inevitable risk, and it is a common wintertime occurrence near other tall DC broadcast towers.

No one has measured the possible health hazards from the high concentration of electromagnetic waves emitted by such a massive tower.

The Tenley residents had no voice in this major decision affecting their safety and quality of life. Never once did American Tower Corporation (ATC) consult anyone in the neighborhood on this massive project. If this tower is allowed to be built, no DC residents or neighborhoods can assume they have any control over major zoning decisions. The message our opposition sends is that we count, neighborhoods count, our communities aren't for sale.

Tenleytown is already bearing an unfair share of the broadcasting burden in DC. Tenleytown is providing all the broadcast base for the entire metropolitan DC-VA-MD region as it stands, with the exception of the tower on River Road, just over the line, and the city's tower on Georgia Avenue. If more capacity is required, it should go elsewhere. A new tower should be a decision made as a result of careful bioregional planning, looking at the most appropriate and safe spot. This is a tower built on spec to profit a business based in Boston, with no concern for or connection to the residents of DC.

The tower, despite its "permits," is illegal. It has been stopped temporarily and must be stopped for good. The permits should not have been granted, and they can be permanently revoked. "The District is not required to stand by and permit a structure to continue to be built under invalid permits issued in violation of the Zoning Act and Regulations, the Height Act, the Building Code, and its environmental, corporate, and tax laws, even where the issuance of the invalid permit may have resulted, in whole or in part, from errors made by this Department." (Carlynn Fuller, Acting Director, DCRA)

Does DC really need the tower to keep its technology current and get HDTV?

No. Fourteen major stations and Channel 26 already have digital capability. The tower is designed to help American Tower, not DC residents.

Does the tower have to be so high?

No. Cell towers don't have to be on a giant tower like this; in fact, they need to be low. We already have several on top of the Tenley Point building, for example--and others are scattered throughout the city.

Stop the TowerWho is opposing the tower?

People from all over the city are joining together to oppose the Tenley tower. Communities in every part of DC recognize that the Tenley tower threatens not just Tenleytown but every neighborhood that hopes to have a say in its quality of life. Here are just a few of the groups opposing the Tenley tower:

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions 3C and 3E
Local residents in Tenleytown, AU Park, Cleveland Park, Chevy Chase, Spring Valley
Federation of Civic Associations
Friends of Tilden Park

Does the proposed tower really comply with all the legal requirements?

No. While American Tower lawyers point to the permit they received from a functionary in the DC government, the permit was flawed in several basic ways, and American Tower, with their extensive experience with building towers in DC and around the country, surely knew it. The proposed tower violates both DC and federal requirements. Four of the most blatant violations:

  1. The proposed setback is illegal, and it can't be fixed without moving the tower somewhere else. DC law (11 DCMR 211) requires that a structure must "be a minimum of ten feet from the lot line, or a distance of at least one-sixth of the mounted height of the antenna, whichever is greater." That translates to a setback for the proposed 756-foot tower of 126 feet. The proposed setback is between five and ten feet. The lot isn't big enough for a legal setback. The setback requirement is based on common sense. Something as dangerous as a cell tower needs to be set back from and inaccessible to passing pedestrians and cars. In its proposed spot, it is a grave danger to the community. Ice falling from the tower onto pedestrians and cars on Wisconsin Avenue is just one danger. Students climbing on the tower and electrocuting themselves is another. The proposed tower has no place in that location. It's too close to stores, houses, cars, and people to be remotely safe.

  2. The proposed tower violates Federal height restrictions. As Federal law states, "no height of an antenna tower in excess of that permitted by the Act of June 1, 1910, as amended, shall be permitted unless the height is approved by the mayor." The proposed tower is higher than the height allowed, and American Tower did not receive a waiver from the mayor. While the ATC lawyers may argue that their permit is a waiver, if that were true, every permit would be a waiver, and the law quoted above would be meaningless.

  3. The proposed tower violates DC nuisance laws. DC law requires that "the proposed location, height, and other characteristics of the antenna [which is defined to include the tower] shall not adversely affect the use of neighboring property ... . The antenna shall be mounted in a location which minimizes to the greatest practical degree its visibility from neighboring property and from adjacent public space, or is appropriately screened by landscaping or other techniques so as to soften or minimize the visibility of the antenna ... . The proposed height of the tower shall not exceed that which is reasonably necessary to render satisfactory service to all parts of its service area." A reading of the law and a glance at the size and location of the tower make it clear that the proposed tower violates all of these requirements. The proposed tower would radically damage the safety and esthetics of the community. The proposed tower, sited on a major street, in a densely populated neighborhood that includes schools, stores, and thousands of pedestrians, cars, and buses, will endanger everyone who comes near it. Its massive size makes it a blight on the neighborhood. The California redwoods would not be big enough to "minimize the visibility of the antenna."

  4. American Tower, in violation of DC law, failed to hold a public hearing. Under DC law (11 DCMR 211 and 3104), commercial broadcast antennas require the approval of the Bureau of Zoning Affairs (BZA) as a special exception. This requires that the company hold a public hearing. American Tower failed to do this. ATC slipped the proposed tower through with no attempt to inform the community, listen to community reaction, or try to meet community concerns.

Is the tower really safe, as American Tower Corporation of Boston insists?

It's really safe, if you live in Boston.

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