- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 2000

The company battling Mayor Anthony A. Williams over construction of a transmission tower in Northwest D.C. has taken to the airwaves and cyberspace, arguing that Mr. Williams is not being friendly to high-tech businesses.

And pro-business groups in the city view the mayor's actions as an anti-business turn.

American Tower Corp., which began building the tower in Tenleytown before a stop-work order was issued, is upset that the mayor is siding with opponents of the project.

"It's just the wrong signal to send to the business community," said Robert Clayton Cooper, an attorney for American Tower. "It's just ridiculous. I've never seen anything like it in my life."

The company is suing the District for $250 million in damages and the right to keep building the tower and has created ads to support its claim.

The Boston-based company, which had to stop construction on Oct. 5, is airing commercials on two local radio stations that take the D.C. government to task for yanking a building permit.

After a few seconds of static noise, a voice intones, "That's the sound of reduced telecommunications services if Mayor Anthony Williams gets his way. The sad fact is Mayor Williams is now blocking construction of a new tower in Tenleytown that his administration previously approved."

Bryan Wyatt, a spokesman for the company, said, "It would put a scare in me if I was a business owner looking to relocate in the District."

Business groups such as the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Business Exchange Network, a group of black professionals are voicing similar concerns.

Officials with the Board of Trade, which represents about 1,700 businesses in the area, have told city officials about their "grave concern about the economic development message that is going out," said Mary Rudolph, director of D.C. government affairs for the group.

When the city reverses itself on a development, "It sends out, inadvertently perhaps, a message that it's not very serious about economic development, bringing in new business, jobs or prosperity," she said.

The group's members are "extremely concerned that rules are being changed in the middle of the game," Mrs. Rudolph added.

But the head of the D.C. agency that originally gave the project a go-ahead said one case does not reflect Mayor Williams' business-friendly attitude.

"That case is in no way indicative of the mayor's posture on business. They're the exception and not the rule," said Carlynn Fuller, interim director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).

However, William Reed, president of the 800-member Business Exchange Network, called Mr. Williams' decision to rescind the tower permit "definitely anti-business."

"It's like a Third World country," he said. "People don't invest in those countries because they don't know what the government will do day-to-day. The mayor acted arbitrarily."

American Tower went through a year of regulatory work before gaining approval in March. Residents of Tenleytown complained about the project this summer, and DCRA pulled the building permit on Oct. 5. The two sides have been in court ever since, and the company is prohibited from doing any more work.

D.C. officials point to a series of the mayor's initiatives as a credit to his business-friendly views, such as his efforts to recruit businesses to the tech corridor along New York Avenue; his push to turn a vacant school building into a technology high school in Northeast; his support of legislation that would give high-tech companies incentives to locate in the District; and recruiting efforts aimed at retail businesses.

"The mayor has clearly demonstrated that he is business-friendly and welcoming to high-tech companies in the District," said Elena Temple, deputy director of communications for Mr. Williams.

Mrs. Rudolph, of the Board of Trade, said Mr. Williams is widely perceived as a pro-business mayor, the first such leader for decades in the District. So his stance on the tower "was definitely a surprise," she said.

Miss Temple said the issue with the tower "points to the fact that there are some process issues that need to be addressed in the administration," such as how closely permits are examined.

Citing internal and independent statistics, Ms. Fuller said DCRA has streamlined and improved its permitting procedures tremendously.

"I think [high-tech companies] can be reassured the mayor is definitely concerned about this, and we're going to do everything we can to make sure our process is one that … businesses can have confidence in," she added.

"It obviously needs some work, and we're committed to working on it."

American Tower also is taking Mr. Williams to task in newspaper ads for what the group says is his favoritism to white, affluent voters who made "a hue and cry," Mr. Reed told The Washington Times.

"There was some question during the [mayoral] campaign if [Mr.] Williams was the white man's candidate. Well, this proves undoubtedly that he is," said Mr. Reed, who is black.

"He hasn't paid the slightest attention to Ward 8. He is kowtowing to Ward 3 voters," Mr. Reed said.

American Tower also has a Web site (www.towerfacts.com) to rebut what it says is a campaign of misinformation by the city and the affluent residents opposing the tower.

One fact missed in most media reports, the Web site and Mr. Reed say, is that the District owns a transmission tower of the same height and design on Georgia Avenue NW in a lower-income neighborhood of mostly minority residents.

That, said Mr. Reed, "definitely makes you wonder about favoritism."

The site has a page encouraging users to fill out an on-line petition and call the mayor's office with their complaints. It also has links to documents issued by the D.C. government, such as the application for the work permit, the permits itself, the stop-work order and the rescinding of the stop-work order.

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