Stop the Tower

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Written testimony of the Ann Hume Loikow (Cleveland Park Citizens Association) submitted to the D.C. Zoning Commission

March 5, 2001

I am Ann Hume Loikow, Second Vice President of the Cleveland Park Citizens Association. The Association was founded in 1911 to represent the greater Cleveland Park area. Among its purposes, as stated in its Constitution are "to foster and to advance all public interests in the District of Columbia, especially in the area delineated ..., including, but not limited to preservation, protection and enhancement of: ... environmental values; the promotion of historical preservation in the District of Columbia; ...(and) integrity of zoning regulations ...." The Association has been concerned about the proliferation of antennas and antenna towers throughout the city, but most dramatically in upper northwest. The Association opposed the erection of cellular phone towers in one of our major national parks in the city, Rock Creek Park. The Association is very concerned about the impact on public health, welfare and safety of the residents of the District of Columbia, and on neighborhood quality, as well as of the adverse impact on the scenic beauty of the Nation's capital posed by the construction of a 756 foot high antenna tower by American Tower Corporation in Tenleytown.

The Zoning Commission's 1989 order (No. 587 in case 84-10), which was issued after a five year rulemaking process, is the substantive law on zoning for antennas and antenna towers in DC an must be the starting point for any rulemaking by the Commission to revise the District of Columbia's antenna and antenna tower regulations. The Stop the Tower Citizens Coalition has submitted an opinion of counsel, by Richard B. Nettler of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P., on this issue.

The provisions of Order 587 dealing with commercial broadcast towers and other antenna towers that exceed the height limits set in the order for matter of right antennas and antenna towers (definition of "antenna" in  199 of the Zoning Regulations includes the supporting tower) was miscodified in the title 11 of the DC Municipal Regulations. Under the 1989 order, these antennas and towers were governed by sections 211 (commercial broadcast towers) and 212 (other than commercial broadcast towers). Under these two sections, such antennas and towers could only be erected in any zoning district if authorized by the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) through the special exception process. The section on special exceptions in 11 DCMR (originally  3108 and now  3104) was erroneously not amended as required by Order 587 to clearly show this and retained the pre-1989 language (which was amended in Nov. 2000 in a technical correction to apply to CR, SP and W districts as well as R districts). Also,  701.6(g), which says an "antenna tower for television and radio broadcasting" is a matter of right in commercial districts, which was in the pre-1989 zoning regulations, was erroneously left in. This provision was the basis for the issuance of the American Tower building permit at 41st and Brandywine Streets, NW which generated the concern about the District's regulation of the location of antenna towers.

The Office of Planning (OP), in the case before you today, is proposing to separate the definition of "antenna tower" from that of "antenna." They have proposed two new definitions, one for "antenna tower" and one for "monopole" (i.e., cell tower). We have been informed, but have not yet seen the report, that the Office of Planning is now proposing to make all antenna towers special exceptions in all zoning districts subject to the conditions set forth in  211. The Commission should rule that under Order 587 this is, in fact, already the law in the District of Columbia, to the extent that the towers exceed the specific matter of right limits in Order 587. OP plans to merge the provisions of  211 and 212 as they see the impact of antenna towers being the same whether they are commercial broadcast towers or other antenna towers.

The original OP reports have slightly confused recommendations on setback requirements for antenna towers. The setback requirement of 1/6 of the height of the tower or antenna will clearly apply to the front yard of a lot, but it appears that in some cases a setback may not be required for rear and side yards. Significant setbacks from every lot line are required for public safety. Setbacks protect the public from physical dangers such as that of falling ice, wind and storm damage, falling tower or antenna parts if towers or antennas are not maintained properly. They also help protect the public from excessive RF radiation exposure that could endanger public health, depending upon number, size, and power of antennas clustered in an area. Buildings, including commercial ones, next to a tower's rear or side are endangered by the lack of adequate setbacks. See, for example, the stores and restaurants next to American Tower tower. Public spaces such as streets, sidewalks, parks, etc. should not be included in any setback calculation as people using those areas need the same protection as those inhabiting or using other spaces of structures on lots next to those containing antenna towers and antennas.

The Cleveland Park Citizens Association urges the Commission to consider increasing the required setbacks where towers abut facilities for those most vulnerable to radiation, i.e., children, the elderly and the ill. Specifically, more extensive setbacks should be required near: a. schools and dormitories ( as children, whose brains are still growing quickly, are more susceptible to radiation induced damage than adults); b. hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities (many medical devices operate on radio frequencies and are subject to interference from antennas; in fact the FCC requires applicants for FCC permits for antennas to notify hospitals and other health care institutions of what they are installing for problems can be minimized; also some heart pacemakers are subject to interference from cell phone radiation); c. senior centers and senior residences (which usually contain numerous people with compromised immunity and/or in using heart pacemakers and other medical equipment subject to RF interference); d. residences of the general public. Unlike many other public health hazards, RF radiation is something you can not see or hear or smell and unlike something like tobacco, one doesn't have the option of avoiding it personally or leaving the room to avoid secondhand smoke.

I would also like to note that on January 30, 2001, the City of Berkeley, CA extended its moratorium on new cell phone antennas for six months and the ban applies to any are within 300 feet of a residence. The 1/6 of the tower's height setback in DC Zoning Regulations would have only required a 126 foot setback for the American Tower tower. That, simply, is not enough given that it is adjacent or very close to six schools (Wilson High School, Deal Junior High, Janney and Murch Elementary Schools, St. Columba's nursery school, and Georgetown Day's Upper School), plus Iona House, a transitional shelter for homeless women and Friendship Terrace, a residence for the elderly.

As noted by the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) Local and State Government Advisory Committee in several Advisory Recommendations to the FCC), the FCC: a. relies on companies to self-certify their facilities comply with FCC RF (radio frequency) exposure standards; b. regarding personal wireless facilities, does not collect any site-specific information about the circumstances of a particular installation (and conditions on site, such as the number of other sources of radiation, topographical factors, climate conditions, etc. affect the amount and direction of RF radiation and the amount radiation exposure the public around the site receives); c. does not have the resources (staff or equipment--only 2 sets of monitoring equipment nationwide!) to monitor installations. Thus, in order to ensure that antennas and antenna towers within its jurisdiction are operated in a manner that does not lead to human exposure to RF emissions in excess of FCC standards, a local government, such as that of the District of Columbia, should require companies to demonstrate they are in compliance with FCC RF emission standards on a site specific basis.

Because the FCC's limits apply "cumulatively to all sources of RF emissions affecting a given area" [see "A Local Government Official's Guide to Transmitting Antenna RF Emission Safety, Rules, Procedures, and Practical Guidance", dated 6/2/00 at p. 6], the zoning regulations should be amended to require applicants to provide information on: a. the RF emissions of the specific antennas they to install and b. actual current measurements of the cumulative radiation exposure from all sources at the site where the antenna or antenna tower is to be erected so that the District can verify compliance with the FCC's RF emission exposure limits.

This is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan's environmental protection element (chapter 4), and with provisions in the Ward 3 Plan ( 1403), which contains a section on "reducing the impact of electromagnetic field radiation" ( 411) which: a. requires District government officials to "incorporate prudent avoidance in decisions regarding the approval, location and routing, and intensity of electromagnetic field (EMF) generating facilities such as generators, power lines, and antennas;" and b. says that "(f)acilities should be located only when and where necessary based on the local service needs of property owners, and facilities should be designed using methods to mitigate, to the greatest extent practicable, involuntary exposures to the public and adverse effects on park land, public space, and private property."

The addition of new antennas to an existing tower is now generally a matter of right. Because such addition increases the RF emissions for that site, the regulations needs to be amended to require a review process, with notice to the public, that requires the applicant to provide the radiation data and cumulative measurements outlined above so that the District Government may ensure that the location continues to be in compliance with FCC RF emission exposure limits before the addition of a another antenna to the site is approved.

The Association would also like to urge that the Commission, as recommended by the National Capital Planning Commission in 1988, and as required by the NCPC's "Guidelines and Submission Requirements for Antennas on Federal Property in the National Capital Region," limit approval of the installation of any antenna to a period of five years, which period may be renewed by filing an application containing a certified statement: a. of the continued need for the antenna; b. that the original installation is structurally sound and continues to meet all requirements; and c. that technological advances or operational changes have not offered any alternatives that permit the elimination of the antenna or reduction in its size so as to decrease its visual impact or reduction in its power so as to reduce the amount of RF emissions to which the public is exposed because of the antenna's installation. If an antenna's renewal request is not approved, the antenna should be removed as soon as possible after the approved period expires. If there is no need for the tower or structure on which such obsolete antennas are located, it too should be required to be removed when the antennas are removed.

The Zoning Regulations should also be amended to require that any other antennas that are no longer needed must be removed immediately. [This is also a provision of the NCPC Guidelines.]

In order to protect the beauty of the national capital, protect our historic landmarks, districts, special streets and places, and minimize the public's RF emission exposure, applicants should be encouraged to share antennas. [Note: this is different from co-location which puts more antennas on the same tower, structure, building and thus increases the RF emission exposure levels.]

In order for the District Government, including the Commission, OP, and other regulatory agencies such as the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the Department of Health, to be able to plan for and appropriately protect the public's interest from the adverse effects of the rapidly increasing number of antennas and antenna towers in the city, more information on existing and proposed antenna and antenna tower installations is needed. The Zoning Regulations should be amended to require all applicants to file with their applications (in addition to current requirements):

  1. copies of their applications and approvals by any other governmental entity, including the FCC and FAA;
  2. information on the proposed new antenna's physical dimensions, transmitting frequency and frequency of operation;
  3. information on the potential for installing additional antennas on the antenna tower, structure or monopole on which the proposed antenna is to be installed;
  4. a description of any existing antennas located on the building, site, structure or tower on which the proposed antenna is to be installed; their functional relationship to the proposed antenna, if any, and the need for existing antenna that are proposed to remain;
  5. sight line studies of the proposed installation and alternatives considered illustrating the extent to which the proposed antennas will be visible from surrounding streets, public open spaces, and nearby residential areas;
  6. a maintenance plan for the periodic upkeep of the antenna installation to ensure its continued safe operation, particularly after severe weather events.

The above information, which is required under the NCPC guidelines, would assist the above District agencies in reasonably and comprehensively planning how to handle the need for antennas in the District of Columbia in a way that minimizes the aesthetic harm to the national capital, historic landmarks, districts, special streets and places, as well as protects the District's population and visitors from excessive exposure to RF emissions.

The Cleveland Park Citizens Association thanks the Commission for allowing it to testify on this important public issue and urges the Commission to amend the regulations to include the provisions described above.

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