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Over the past 11 years, Bruce Lowrey has rebuilt his small home on Brandywine Street NW piece by piece. Lowrey says it was a group house before he moved in, and the previous tenants left the ultimate fixer-upper. Now, there are no signs that there were ever holes in the drywall, holes in the roof, or trees growing out of the foundation. Both the interior and exterior of the blue-shingled house are immaculate, and the neatly trimmed yard is protected by a white picket fence.
The 50-year-old Lowrey says that he bought a home in Tenleytown because he grew enchanted with the neighborhood in his 14 years living in and around the District. “I loved it because I could park, because there was no garbage in the streets,” Lowrey says. “I had been robbed [when I lived] in Dupont Circle. [Tenleytown] was quieter; it was cleaner. It just felt better.”
Lowrey, who works in acquisition and information technology for the Navy, thinks he has had less success as custodian of his neighborhood than of his one-story colonial over the past few years. The encroachments of urban living have come from all sides. First, the animal hospital that fills a squat brick building next door renovated; Lowrey is pursuing litigation over two spaces in the vet’s parking garage that he says are illegal. Then there are the delivery trucks that rumble by as early as 5 in the morning and park in the alley on the side of his house.
But, Lowrey says, those inconveniences are small change compared with the nightmare lurking two doors down, at the corner of Brandywine and Wisconsin. A one-story building at 4600 Wisconsin Ave. will soon turn into a multi-story residential developmentif developer IBG Investors LLC gets its way, that is. When Lowrey heard from a friend what IBG planned to do with the current site of Babe’s Billiard Cafe, he decided to fight: If he doesn’t stop the project, his small-town life in the District will be over. “Unfortunately, I’m at ground zero,” he says, “and when the bomb goes off, I’ll be blown away.” (IBG has yet to file papers with the D.C. Office of Zoning but has presented plans to Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, 3E and 3F that would require a zoning change to allow for a 65-foot building.)
A year ago, Lowrey formed the Coalition to Stop Tenleytown Overdevelopment with a core group of 10 like-minded neighborhood activists. The group meets weekly to discuss the projects planned for Babe’s and for 4800 Wisconsin Ave., where Donohoe Development Co. has filed papers for a proposed eight-story mixed-use complex on the current site of Martens Volvo. “The buildings are too big, they’re too tall, and they’re too dense,” Lowrey says. “It will generate a lot more traffic….The alley I live next to will be used as a high-speed cut-through, and it will cut off the light to my house.”
Lowrey’s Coalition to Stop Tenleytown Overdevelopment is not to be confused with the Tenley and Cleveland Park Emergency Committee, the Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Committee, or the Tenleytown Neighbors Association. Over the past 30 years, these and other organizations have collectively invented a nearly insurmountable self-defense technique: the Tenleytown Knockout. Whether it’s a residential development or a retail outlet, a public project or private enterprise, if neighborhood animus reaches critical mass, the Knockout can’t be far behind.
If the locals object to something on the drawing board, they know what to do: campaign door to door, jam the phone lines downtown at the Wilson Building, and solicit for a legal-defense fund. In a few days, the outrage is above the fold in the Northwest Current and on the lips of every concerned citizen within three single-member ANC districts of Tenley Circle.
“This is not a shy community,” says Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson, whose prosperous district includes Tenleytown. “They don’t hesitate to call me. They don’t hesitate to call the mayor.” After years of fightingand winningneighbors still have the bite of the underdog. “We’re not leaving any stone unturned,” Lowrey says. “This is not easy, because we all work full-time jobs. We are David, and the Goliaths are Donohoe and IBG.”
In all the battles, there’s a common thread: When the city pushes, Tenleytown pushes back. Tenley residents want to live in Dupont Circleexcept without the nightlife, the noise, the crowds, the traffic, or the homeless people. But there’s more to urban living than professional neighbors, boutique shopping, art-house theaters, Thai food, and a convenient subway stop to shorten the commute. Cities are full of students and poor people. Cities are noisy, messy, and dense. Any quest to perfect the urban experience has just one flaw: The perfect city is not a city. If Tenleytown wants to batten down the hatches each time a danger to its quality of life threatens to ooze in from south of Tenley Circle, then there’s an easy solution: Just move the District line to Rodman Street NW. Then Tenleytowners will have the suburban living they deserve.
Tenleytown is easier to describe as an ideology than as a geographical entity. In the broadest terms, the neighborhood radiates out from Tenley Circle and spreads to the east and west of Wisconsin Avenue NW. Although the center may be clear, the edges are fuzzy. Jean Pablo of the Tenleytown Historical Society says rough borders are McLean Gardens to the south, Fessenden Street to the north, 43rd Street to the west, and Reno Road to the east.
Inside those boundaries you’ll find plenty of the stuff Lowrey and his fellow activists want to preserve: quaint old homes, well-manicured gardens, and quality public schools. “It’s a place where we can share each other’s lives, a place where we can garden, but we’re really very close to Wisconsin Avenue and the amenities of being in town,” says Cathy Wiss, chair of ANC 3F, one of the two commissions that cover Tenleytown.
“It’s like living with all the conveniences of the city, but living in a small town,” says Beth Kravetz, a former chair of ANC 3E. “That’s a good thing. Neighborhoods across the city are always complaining that Ward 3 people live nicer. Well, one of the reasons is because it’s really nice to live here. This is suburban living in the city, and it’s a quality of life that we do value.”
The element that makes Tenleytown stand out from its Ward 3 brethren, though, is its conflation of the city, the suburbs, and a small town. Tenleytown has a Metro stop, office buildings, construction sites, and rush-hour traffic; hulking metal towers, green fields with soccer goals, and a 7-Eleven with a parking lot in front; winding roads, lush lawns, and neighbors who call each other by their first names.
The District’s Comprehensive Plan, drafted by the D.C. Office of Planning, takes a stab at cracking into the mind of a Tenleytowner. “Ward 3, its residents, businesses, and institutional establishments are significant contributors to the District’s total economy,” reads the plan. “While the people of the ward recognize and generally take pride in this contribution, their single greatest concern is the possibility of unrestrained development diminishing the quality of life.”
“Unrestrained development” is code for tall buildings, which Tenleytowners fear more than anything else. “What makes it such a wonderful neighborhood is its low-rise neighborhood aspect,” Kravetz says. “To turn it into a high-rise canyon might look good on a piece of paper, but it totally destroys the intimate feel of the neighborhood.” For Tenleytowners, high-rises on Wisconsin Avenue mean more traffic and less parking, more density and less sunlight reaching their homes on Ellicott Street, Grant Road, and 41st Street.
“Height of development always seems to be the biggest issue along the [Wisconsin Avenue] corridor,” says Robert Collins, the District’s planner for Ward 3. “Right now a lot of the Upper Wisconsin corridor is one-, maybe two-, three-story development. People are very used to that.” Although its executives should harbor no illusions about neighborhood reaction, Donohoe is pushing ahead with its application to increase the height and density allowed on the Martens parcel to allow for the construction of an eight-story, 191-unit apartment building. “We have an aging car dealership here that is well beyond its useful life, and we can replace that with a new development that is very compatible with the existing neighborhood and takes advantage of the existing infrastructure,” says Peter Gartlan, president of Donohoe.
Gartlan says that putting additional residential units in Tenleytown will help the District attract new residents and provide amenities to people who already live in the neighborhood. “A lot of the retail in that area is not doing very well, and it needs more residents in that area to sustain itself,” Gartlan says. “The retailers and the merchants in the neighborhood who have been having a tough time would welcome additional residents.”
As Friendship Heights and Bethesda morphed into shopping megalopolises in the ’70s, Tenleytown, closer to downtown D.C., retained its predominantly residential character. Competition from nearby hubs may explain why the ‘hood’s old-fashioned low-rise commercial setup lacks old-fashioned neighborhood retail. “It is hard to compete, when you’re doing retail, with the malls,” says Kravetz. “People don’t typically go to single destinations.”
In the 2000s, Tenleytown’s stretch of Wisconsin Avenue is the Georgia Avenue of Ward 3. The east side of Wisconsin one block south of the Tenleytown Metro stop, for example, would seem a likely spot for high-quality neighborhood-serving retail. In the late afternoon, young professionals coming home from work and students from American University and Wilson High School fill the sidewalk, creating a semi-lively street scene. What they pass is a carryout, a psychic, a store peddling beepers and cell phones, a frame shop, a pawn shop, a computer-repair store, a Mattress Warehouse, a Subway, a sushi restaurant, and a Masonic temple.
Farther north and south on Wisconsin, the low-rise stores are just as likely to belong to real-estate agents or tax preparers as a more neighborhood-serving retailer. Commercial offices aren’t the only overproliferated outfits in the neighborhood. The old Tenleytown-as-mattress-district saw may not be viable any longerone of the three showrooms between 4400 and 4600 Wisconsin Ave. is now vacantbut it’s really easy to make up some new too-much-of-something saws. It seems that Tenleytown residents may be all set on box springs, but need to get their posters framed. They have their choices: Framers’ Workroom at 4431 Wisconsin, Allen Custom Frame and Sports Gallery at 4620, Wonder Graphics Picture Framing at 4622, Picasso Gallery Custom Framing at 4707, or Presentation and Framing Service at 4901. And if they’re still in the mood for comparison shopping, there are five dry cleaners and four travel agents between 4400 and 5000.
But when Tenleytowners take a critical eye to their strip, they don’t cite commercial redundancy. They think hammer and nails. Since Hechinger closed operations at the blocklong 1941 Sears Building at 4500 Wisconsin Ave. in 1999, a hardware outlet has been the neighborhood’s great white whalethe solution to retail woe that’s always just out of reach. When Home Depot flirted with the Sears/Hechinger site in 2000, public meetings with the store’s management were packed with supportive neighbors. At one such meeting, a neighborhood resident claimed her survey had found that 96 percent of Tenleytowners wanted a hardware store. Alas, Home Depot ultimately backed out of its proposed deal. The building’s historic designation, achieved via a neighborhood drive in the ’80s, prevented its demolition.
The hulking Hechinger space won’t be vacant for much longer, but it won’t be filled with a hardware store. Armond Spikell of Roadside Development, the group that is developing the site, says a mixed-use development featuring a Best Buy and a Container Store will soon take root there. “Maybe I’m taking a very narrow view, but I do think the Sears Building has had a big influence on Tenleytown, and it has not been positive,” Spikell says. “It’s a big long block that has had one use, and it’s not particularly lively. Now there are shops [across the street, on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue], but they could be particularly nicer. It has kind of lacked an anchor.”
Along with the retailers, which Spikell hopes will open their doors by Christmastime, Madison’s development will include 208 residential units in a five-story addition on top of the historic building. That’s pretty high by Tenley standards. And so is the project down the street: Tenley Hill, a 65-foot mixed-use building by PN Hoffman that opened across the street from Martens Volvo in fall 2001.
Activists, somehow, don’t see the Sears/ Hechinger successor or Tenley Hill as a capitulation. “[Tenley Hill is] probably a little higher[-density] than we would have wanted, but they scaled back from their original design….It has a neighborhood-friendly look,” Kravetz says.
The neighborhood-friendly aspect contrasts with what Kravetz calls Donohoe’s “butt-ugly” design for the Martens site. Another key difference: Tenley Hill’s 38 condos are overwhelmingly owner-occupied, and Donohoe is proposing 191 rental units. Gartlan says that whether occupants rent or own makes no difference: Increased residential density will make Tenleytown a better neighborhood. “I think Tenley Hill has demonstrated multifamily along Wisconsin Avenue is an appropriate and acceptable use that the neighborhood has generally found to be acceptable,” he says.
Over the past few decades, Tenleytown activists have been so busy stopping the influx of the objectionable that they haven’t learned how to attract what the neighborhood wants. The Tenleytown Knockout doesn’t work when you’re not fighting anyone, and the neighborhood has yet to invent the Knock-In.
If Tenleytowners want to see how it’s done, they have only to travel two stops on the Red Line. That would be to Cleveland Park, the Platonic ideal of an urban retail corridor. Although the Cleveland Park/Woodley Park area and Tenleytown/American University Park/Friendship Heights have similar average family incomes according to the Neighborhood Information Service of the nonprofit group D.C. Agenda$212,836 vs. $184,587 in 1999the Cleveland Park commercial strip is Madison Avenue to Tenleytown’s Skid Row. Yet even with all of the boutiques and fancy sit-down restaurants with outdoor patios, Cleveland Park is not elitist. No matter if you want radicchio, chicken curry, a hamburger, or a Slurpee, Cleveland Park is the place for you. It’s a retail experience that can be enjoyed by man, woman, and child.
“We don’t have the quality of commercial life that some areas have, and we don’t have the sense of architectural overlay that I think Cleveland Park was very successful with,” says Tenleytown resident Timothy Cooper.
Tenleytowners may envy Cleveland Park’s commercial variety, but they’ve cut themselves off from the institution that makes it all possible: the high-rise apartment complex. Through no initiative of their own, Cleveland Parkers inherited an ideal layout. Old residential buildings such as the Broadmoor and Quebec House feed Cleveland Park’s commercial strip and don’t overshadow the single-family homes farther away from Connecticut Avenue. In aesthetics, Cleveland Park walks all over Tenleytown. All of the retail is low-rise, segregated into discrete strips between Connecticut Avenue’s residential areas. Cleveland Park looks planned but not stale, coordinated but varied. It looks as if someone knew what he was doing.
Just up the street, Tenleytown seems afraid of the retail resources it does have. The neighborhood’s Whole Foods, what should be the centerpiece of bourgeois cachet that the area hangs its hat on, hides inside a parking garage. “I think Whole Foods is a real amenity to the neighborhood,” Spikell says. “Would it be nicer if it looked like the one on P Street? Sure. Does the neighborhood deserve something better? Yes.” In sum, the mishmash of six-story office buildings, low-rise retail strips, and stand-alone stores on Wisconsin Avenue is the architectural equivalent of broken teeth.
Tenleytown residents argue that any comparison between Cleveland Park’s stretch of Connecticut Avenue and their own corridor isn’t fair: Connecticut is wider than Wisconsin, they say, and its larger lots and setbacks allow for buildings that don’t tower over the street. But even if all of those arguments are valid, it’s still clear that there’s a choice to be made. “Everybody says that the neighborhood-serving retail over on Connecticut Avenue is so great, and I say, ‘Look at how many apartment buildings are on Connecticut Avenue,’” says Allison Barnard Feeney, a Tenleytown resident, who believes recent development opportunities could improve the neighborhood. High-density residential developments may cut down on your sunlight and increase your traffic, but they also bring more customers to your neighborhood hardware store.
Heather Knouse of Street Sense Retail Advisors, the Bethesda consulting firm contracted by the District to conduct a market analysis of the upper Wisconsin Avenue corridor, says that Tenleytown’s status as a bastion of the single-family home will make it hard to rise to the Cleveland Park retail standard. “Part of the reason that Tenleytown’s retailers have so much trouble is that…within a quarter or half a mile from the Metro, there are far fewer people in Tenleytown than there are in Cleveland Park,” she says.
When Ward 3 comes up in conversation at the Wilson Building, it’s generally not in the context of economic hardship. When it’s time to talk redevelopment, the commercial corridors that come up are typically Georgia Avenue NW, H Street NE, and Martin Luther King Avenue SE. Nevertheless, the District’s Office of Planning, partnered with architectural consultants HOK and Street Sense, is now studying how to improve the upper Wisconsin Avenue corridor. The study, on schedule for a September publication date, will create guidelines for the avenue’s redevelopment over the next decade. “It’s one of the major avenues in the city that we want to turn around, one of these great avenues that’s meant for people to enjoy,” says Chris Bender, the Office of Planning’s communications director. “The way it’s set up right now does not necessarily allow that to happen.”
The planners have gathered community input for their project, but the residents have already spoken: To a great extent, Tenleytown has the Wisconsin Avenue that it created for itself. “There are other hot markets in town that developers can pursue,” says Lowrey. “Because of their own corporate greed, they want to come up here, because they want to make more money.”
Collins says the focus of the corridor study is to bring more smart growth and transit-oriented development to the District. The final plan, says Collins, will recommend taller buildings (eight to 10 stories) near the Tenleytown Metro, and the preservation and enhancement of the one- and two-story buildings north of the Metro between Ellicott and Fessenden Streets. When it comes to the Martens site, he’s not so sure. “I think that’s actually in a transition area, going from the low-density to the middle,” Collins says. “It’s probably seen more as a medium area.”
When there’s middle ground, there’s room for a fight. “People like the idea that we’re bringing residential here. It’s just a matter of scale,” Gartlan says. And if the proposed Martens development gets the spike? “The matter-of-right zoning would more than likely force the property owners to seek out a different use that would promote more traffic and congestion, such as a destination-oriented big-box retailer,” he says. Hard to believe that the neighborhood wouldn’t knock that one out, too.
Although the zoning hearings for the proposed development won’t take place for another several months, the weekly meetings of the Coalition to Stop Tenleytown Overdevelopment continue. The group’s guest speaker, At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who rose to prominence as a staunch foe of Wisconsin Avenue development in the ’80s, stands before a rapt audience at a June meeting. “You want the entire community talking about this project. You don’t want any elected official to be able to go anywhere in Ward 3 without hearing about this,” he says, referring to Donohoe’s request for a zoning change and a planned-unit development at the Martens Volvo site.
Lowrey, for one, spread the word in a letter dated Feb. 24, 2003, addressed to residents of the Tenley Hill condominiums. “The proposed apartment building at the Martens Volvo site across the street from Tenley Hill…will contain 193 [since amended to 191] apartments, a prime housing location for American University students,” he warned. “So brace yourselves for the loud, all-night parties, fast cars and garbage.” His coalition’s meetings are now held in Tenley Hill’s community room; the condo dwellers add a new perspective to the typical anti-development screed. Cheryl Stovall, a Tenley Hill resident, says she has a particularly pressing interest in opposing any development across the street. “It’s going to be bad for me,” she says. “It’s going to block my view.”
As neighbors share their concerns, Mendelson argues that it’s never too early to start planning. He counsels the group on organizational techniques (“Constantly be asking for money. Constantly be asking for volunteers”) and protest strategies (“That’s not a good idea,” he responds when one woman suggests that the group picket Martens). “At 4000 Wisconsin, a number of us got arrested,” he says, falling into the cadence of an old war story. “Our getting arrested definitely got a lot of attention. Now, I’m not recommending that. But don’t rule out anything.” CP
Knockout No. 1:
In 1986, Tenleytown activists latched on to a symbol for future Wisconsin Avenue overdevelopment. Anti-development groups complained that the proposed structure, a multi-use commercial development at 4000 Wisconsin Ave. planned by Donohoe Development Co. and the Holladay Corp., was far too big and sprawling for the low-rise Tenleytown commercial corridor. But despite two lawsuits, the attempts by the activists to stop 4000 Wisconsin were ultimately unsuccessful. Good activists, though, always have a bargaining chip, and this time it was the entire neighborhood.
In the 1986 Democratic mayoral primary, which incumbent Marion S. Barry Jr. won with 71 percent of the vote overall, the pro-development Barry took less than 30 percent of the vote in Ward 3. Joel Odum, an outspoken 4000 Wisconsin critic known as “the mayor of Tenleytown,” carried nearly 17 percent of the Ward 3 vote as a last-minute write-in candidate. Responding to a well-worn plea from disaffected Tenleytown residents, Barry, shortly after the primary, declared that the zoning of a 12-block stretch of Wisconsin Avenue between Rodman and Chesapeake Streets should be amended to prohibit high-impact developments.
Not so overwhelmed by the mayor’s change of heart, Ward 3 gave 76 percent of its vote to his Republican challenger, At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz, in the general election; Barry got 15 percent. Nevertheless, the re-elected mayor kept his campaign promise: On March 3, 1987, the D.C. Zoning Commission approved the “downzoning” of a large swath of property on Wisconsin Avenue, changing its designation from “major” business center to “community” business center. Tenleytown activists cheered the preservation of their neighborhood’s low-rise character. Whayne S. Quin, an attorney for Donohoe, told the Washington Post that the decision would cost the District hundreds of millions of dollars. “The city is going to have to understand that this area is one of the few areas that can be competitive with the suburbs,” he said.
Knockout No. 2:
All neophyte politicians make very public mistakes, and one of Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon’s first played out on the mean streets of Tenleytown. Not long after taking office in 1991, Dixon proposed a homeless shelter on Albemarle Street NW near Tenley Circle. The shelter, which would have been the first in Ward 3, was to be located across the street from the Janney Elementary School. The neighborhood responded in classic NIMSY style: not in
Shelter opponents worried that the homeless men who were to be bused home to the neighborhood each night would prey on their children. “It’s not that we don’t want a shelter anywhere, this is just that this is the worst place for it,” explained activist Joel Odum to the Washington Post. “There’s no compromising. They’ll meet massive resistance if they put it here.”
Within days, as concerned Tenley citizens scraped together $2,000 and 20 lawyers to fight the District in court, Dixon’s administration relented. By October 1993, 23 of the 32 congregations in Ward 3 had joined a group called the Community Council for the Homeless. The coalition of churches picked up some of the slack, providing food and 20 beds for the area’s homeless.
Knockout No. 3:
On Thursday, Nov. 20, 1997, a company called Manassas Video Club (MVC) began unloading boxes of tapes into the three-story building at 4908 Wisconsin Ave. NW. According to the Nov. 26, 1997, issue of the Northwest Current, when Tenley residents saw adult videos emerge from MVC’s moving boxes, they got angry. “The store will open over our dead bodies,” Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3E’s Peter Yeo told the Current.
Phil Mendelson, then a prominent figure in the Tenleytown and Cleveland Park Emergency Committee, contacted David Watts, the director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). The DCRA shortly thereafter issued MVC a Notice to Discontinue Use and Occupancy. MVC, represented by, among others, Paul Cambria, Hustler publisher Larry Flynt’s attorney, kept trying to sell pornography to the uptight citizens of Ward 3. But the “Keep America Free. Support MVC,” sign on the store’s front door was soon overwhelmed by protest fliers.
Despite the best efforts of the community, the video store eventually opened on Jan. 28, 1998, with limited stock and hours. Residents turned out en masse to fight the store. “It was three stories of porn, and it was inappropriate for the neighborhood,” says Beth Kravetz, another 3E commissioner at the time.
Over the next few months, the store was inspected three times by the DCRA to ensure that it stocked less than 15 percent adult material. On Aug. 11, MVC surrendered its certificate of occupancy and closed the store. “It dragged on for a long time,” Kravetz says. “We would have liked to have seen it resolve itself much faster.”
Knockout No. 4:
Houses of Ill Repute
In the summer of 1999, Cathy Wiss was taking a walk when she saw a crane knocking over an old home on a large lot at the corner of Nebraska Avenue and Albemarle Street NW. When Wiss learned that the Holladay Corp., the developers that had the raze permit, wanted to increase the residential density permitted in the lot’s zoning, she formed an opposition group. Wiss says that more than 200 people paid a $20 fee to join the Tenleytown Neighbors Association. The group cast a wide net: Wiss says some neighbors were angered by the zoning request, others by the potential traffic problems, or the parking, or the environmental impact, or the historic value of the razed house.
“I think the intensity of the opposition surprised us,” says Rita Bamberger, a Holladay partner. Holladay first proposed a development with 26 condos, then, when that met opposition, 17 town houses. Then 14. Then 13. All the while, the Tenleytown Neighbors Association did brisk business in “No More than 4″ yard signs and buttons: The group thought that, under matter-of-right ruleswhich dictate uses to which a property can be turned without petitioning for an exemption or a zoning changefour houses was appropriate. In March 2001, after 16 hours of testimony from neighbors and expert witnesses, including the Tenleytown Neighbors Association’s own zoning and planning expert, traffic expert, architectural historian, and arborist”There were lots of beautiful trees on the property,” Wiss saysthe District Zoning Commission ruled that the right number of houses was seven. “I think the neighborhood feels it was successful,” says Wiss, who parlayed that success into the chairmanship of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3F.
Six houses are now getting their finishing touches at the corner of Nebraska and Albemarle, but they’re not Holladay’s. The group sold the lot soon after the ruling. Did her two-year Tenleytown tussle dissuade Bamberger from pursuing other development opportunities in the area? “The answer to that,” she says, “is yes.”
Knockout No. 5:
Timothy Cooper spent the summer of 2000 away from his Tenleytown home. When he returned that September, Cooper noticed a new construction project on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue near Brandywine Street. For Cooper, the nascent telecommunications tower wasn’t just an eyesoreit was an eyesore that was inching toward its projected 756-foot apex every day. “At that point it became completely clear that we either had to stop this or that we would be facing an architectural nightmare that we would have for decades to come,” he says.
Within five days, Cooper, a lawyer, mounted a protest at the base of the tower, which was being built by the Boston-based American Tower Corp. The four television towers (WRC/NBC, WTTG/FOX, WJLA/ABC, WUSA/CBS) already planted in or near the neighborhood helped Cooper disseminate his message throughout the District. “Without the fact that this was a lead story on every news station for several weeks, I don’t think we would have been nearly as successful in that window of time,” Cooper says.
The group Cooper organized to fight the metal obelisk, the Stop the Tower Coalition, burned up the phone lines to Mayor Anthony A. Williams and to Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson, who pushed emergency stop-work legislation through the D.C. Council. In October 2000, one month after the onset of Cooper’s protest, the tower’s permits were rescinded by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs on account of a violation of the 1910 Building Height Act, failure to conduct an environmental-impact study, and an inadequate side-yard setback. American Tower responded with a $250 million lawsuit. “It still comes back to the point that the permit was fine until neighbors in Ward 3 complained,” American Tower attorney John Brennan told the Northwest Current. “The city can’t issue a permit and then walk away like that.” American Tower is still pursuing litigation. To date, all of the company’s legal challenges have been rebuffed. The tower stands partly built, its development arrested at 281 feet. CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photographs by Pilar Vergara.