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The Issue: Are dropped calls taking priority over community concerns in a historic Southeast neighborhood? Some neighbors are worried about the radiation effects of six 10-foot T-Mobile antennas installed in early October on the roof of the Polk Court Apartments at 525 G St SE. To install the towers, T-Mobile had to get permission from both the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and the Historic Preservation Office (HPO). But some feel left out of the process and say that formal HPO approval was inadvertently bypassed. In order to belatedly meet the historic district requirements, T-Mobile recently moved the towers six feet from the roofline. But residents argue that this doesn’t change the fact the towers are still chilling on their roof.

Not Good: Besides being peeved about the eyesore factor, locals gave an impassioned presentation at a Ward 6B Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) meeting in October about the potential health concerns of radio  waves. ANC Commissioner David Garrison told City Desk, “For this particular kind of facility, a specific neighborhood notification process does not exist. It certainly would be helpful if it did.” In his time as ANC commissioner, he says, he has never heard of cellular towers being placed on a residential building.

Good (or At Least Not Bad): The towers will help eliminate dropped calls! Also, because they meet DCRA and Federal Communication Commission demands, there may be little the community can do about them: Garrison says, “Even if HPO had been consulted [before the installation]…they do not have jurisdiction over whether or not the towers can be put up.” Terry McDonald, the property manager of the apartments, told Capital Community News: “Our opinion was if it is legal we can have the deal.” (He did not disclose his revenue from renting the rooftop to T-Mobile.) As for the health issue, the American Cancer Society says, “No human studies have focused specifically on cellular phone towers, or even on radio waves more generally.” Animal studies suggest the towers do not pose a cancer risk.

Next Step: According to Garrison, it’s not likely the ANC will follow up on this due to the fact that “federal law effectively trumps local concerns.”

Photo by Jeff Kubina, Creative Commons Attribution License