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Comcast riles residents

Transmission facility sidesteps law, they say

(Published Oct. 8, 2001)

By KATHRYN SINZINGER

Staff Writer

In the midst of negotiations with the city to renew its $150 million cable TV franchise agreement, Comcast has locked horns with Brightwood residents who angrily charge that the city has improperly allowed the company to locate a transmission facility in a residential area.

Complaints from residents and Ward 4 Councilman Adrian Fenty prompted city officials to withdraw Comcast’s permit for the prefabricated, windowless building at 6336 Piney Branch Road NW and issue a "stop work" order in August.

But Comcast officials are scheduled to present their request for an exception to zoning regulations to the Board of Zoning Adjustment on Oct. 9, arguing that their facility is already 70 percent completed.

Company officials also contend that Ward 4 residents will have to wait longer for technological advances in their cable TV service if the transmission station cannot be completed at its present site.

Fenty, at an Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4A meeting on Oct. 2, reacted angrily to Comcast’s "suggestion that they will penalize Ward 4 residents" for opposing the facility’s siting near their single-family homes and threatened to vote against renewal of Comcast’s contract with the city.

The cable company has "already not met obligations that they are committing to in this franchise agreement by refusing to work with the Brightwood community," Fenty said.

About 200 residents attended the ANC meeting, at which commissioners voted unanimously to oppose Comcast’s application before the BZA. City agencies are required to afford "great weight" to recommendations of ANCs regarding zoning matters within their boundaries.

The Brightwood Community Association previously filed a petition containing 364 signatures of local residents who oppose the Comcast facility’s location on Piney Branch.

Fenty said the site chosen by Comcast for its transmission station is intended for a detached Colonial-style home, compatible with the surrounding area. The city’s erroneous decision in July to issue Comcast a permit for a commercial facility on the residentially zoned site violates the city’s Comprehensive Plan for Ward 4, the councilman said. He said he plans to testify before the BZA.

"At present, most commercial activity [in the ward] is located along Georgia Avenue and Kennedy Street," Fenty noted. "One of the priorities of the Comprehensive Plan is to provide for the stability and maintenance of residential neighborhoods like...Brightwood."

The Comcast controversy is the third high-profile debate over the location of transmission facilities in the District during Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ tenure.

Ward 3 residents continue to fight a partially completed antenna tower, located just off Wisconsin Avenue NW in Tenleytown, that has landed the city in court over the Williams administration’s improper approval of the project and officials’ subsequent withdrawal of the permits.

Ward 7 residents currently fighting attempts to erect a monopole at the Penn-Branch Shopping Center recently gained an ally in the mayor’s Office of Planning, which issued a report opposing the antenna tower there.

Meanwhile, D.C. City Council approved legislation directing the mayor’s administration to review the city’s procedures for approving transmission antennas and to report back to the council. No such report has yet been made public.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator