The National Capital Planning Commission voted last night to approve the construction of two cellular telecommunications towers in Rock Creek Park, ending more than a year of debate about the placement of towers in a national park.
The 8 to 4 vote marked the third time this year that the commission had dealt with the issue. The panel voted once to reject the Bell Atlantic towers, requesting more environmental information from the National Park Service, and later tabled the issue and voted for an independent evaluation of alternatives to the towers.
The consultant reported yesterday that the study did not not find suitable alternatives and confirmed the need for one of the two requested towers.
The panel listened to three hours of testimony on the issue. Most speakers opposed the towers, voicing concerns about their appearance and the safety of birds in the park. They also said that allowing even one tower would lead to a proliferation of towers in the park.
However, the commission decided to reconsider the original proposal and voted for the two cell towers, after listening to testimony that the two towers would provide complete cellular coverage of the park. One will be built at the FitzGerald Tennis Center on 16th Street NW; the other will be in a Park Service maintenance yard on Glover Road NW.
Congress grew impatient with the prolonged debate on the towers, and Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) attached a provision to the D.C. budget that would have mandated that the towers be built. President Clinton has vetoed the D.C. budget bill, partly because of the Daschle amendment.
However, on Monday, Clinton agreed to sign a D.C. budget bill that included the cell tower provision if Congress separated the D.C. budget from a larger spending bill. Clinton's budget director, Jacob "Jack" Lew, said the president still opposes the cell tower measure, but would accept it to get the D.C. budget passed.
Capital Planning Commission members voting against the proposal were Patricia Elwood, Arrington L. Dixon, Robert Miller and David Colby.
As the meeting ended, presidentially appointed commissioner Robert Gaines, who had voted for the towers, said, "Now you Bell people got what you wanted, see what you can do about removing the Daschle amendment."
Although the amendment had not been mentioned at the meeting until then, it had been widely resented by city leaders who said it trampled on the planning commission's independent review process.