Vol. 17, No. 11 May 20 - June 2, 2004


Solution Proposed in Fordham Tower Tiff 
Montefiore Offers Building Roof


Montefiore Medical Center has brokered a potential solution to a decade-old conflict between the New York Botanical Garden and Fordham University over the school's 260- foot half-built radio tower that many argue mars the pristine views inside the Garden. Montefiore proposes to allow Fordham to put the antenna for Fordham's public radio station, WFUV-FM, on top of a Montefiore-owned apartment building.

If the plan passes a series of reviews, a slimmer and shorter tower (142 feet) would be constructed within a year on the Montefiore II high-rise at 3450 Wayne Avenue and Gun Hill Road, a building with 299 residential units. The current structure would then be dismantled.

Fordham would lease the space, which currently houses other smaller antennas, from Montefiore for a yearly fee of $100,000. The university will also foot most of the bill for the tower - which will allow WFUV to have a significantly stronger signal - though the Garden is making a private contribution. The announcement at Montefiore's Children's Hospital last Thursday brought out a bevy of officials, including representatives from the offices of the governor and the mayor, who thanked Montefiore for stepping in. "It's a wonderful day in the neighborhood," said Peter Madonia, the mayor's chief-of-staff, who lives in the Bronx. "I want to thank Montefiore for being a good neighbor and a good corporate citizen."

Each speaker expressed relief that the agonizing controversy was nearly over. "A few years ago, it seemed insurmountable," said Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión. "But I knew all these smart people would eventually come up with a solution."

Fordham and the Garden had also clearly reestablished good will. "We're looking forward to the future," said Rev. Joseph McShane, Fordham's recently inaugurated president. Gregory Long, the Garden's president, said his institution will, as a show of unity, plant three sets of trees at Montefiore, Fordham and the Garden once the tower is dismantled.

The controversy ignited in 1994 when Fordham responded to a tightening of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) standards on radiation by building a new radio tower on its campus just across the street from its institutional neighbor. Fordham also wanted WFUV (90.7 FM) to reach more listeners throughout the metropolitan area. The station's programming includes folk, jazz, rock and Irish music, in addition to Fordham sports and religious services.

But once the metal tower rose above the tree line, the Garden appealed to halt further construction.

The ensuing dispute went through rounds of court rulings, public hearings and unsuccessful negotiations. "Back in '95, the governor dragged me into his office and said 'we have got to find a solution to this controversy in the Bronx,'" said John Cahill, the governor's secretary.

As of last year, the FCC was in the process of negotiating between the parties to mitigate the tower's visual impact if construction continued. "We were fairly desperate," said Joe Muriana, Fordham's associate vice president of Government Relations and Urban Affairs. Not wanting to make "a final judgment call," as he put it, Fordham and the Garden revisited other possibilities.

Back in the 1980s, Fordham had taken note of the Montefiore II apartments while conducting an inventory of tall buildings in the area. Encouraged by informal conversations between the two institutions, Fordham decided to explore its feasibility last fall. "It showed some promise," Muriana said.

It became more of a possibility because of two crucial developments: tower engineering had advanced in the nearly 20 years since Fordham first started planning the tower, and Montefiore decided to free up space on top of the building. If Montefiore II's cooling system was no longer on the roof, the tower could be sufficiently anchored into the building's support structures.

"It seemed to us that perhaps Montefiore could be of help, and if we could, we should," said Spencer Foreman, MD, Montefiore's president.

Last fall, Fordham contacted engineering consultants to establish a safety margin that could protect the highly sensitive medical equipment stored in Montefiore II's penthouse.

"We had to satisfy all the [Montefiore] engineering staff that we had studied the broadcasting implications to death," Muriana said.

A request for proposals (RFP) was issued in late February, and only firms that had conducted major projects (like the tower on the World Trade Center) were considered.

The field has been narrowed to a few bidders, and the design is reported to include a mast which narrows from 10 feet at its base to four feet (the current tower has a 55 foot base).

"It's just a needle," said Foreman about the slim design. "We didn't want to erect a whole monument up there."

No Health Concerns Cited

The main structural concern is the impact of wind on the tower. "The real problem is not the weight on the building, but the weight of the wind that can pick it up and launch it into outer space," Muriana said.

Many radio towers are located on roofs - though much more frequently in Manhattan than the Bronx - and anchor into a building's beams. Fordham is currently working with Montefiore II's original architect to determine if the high-rise will need additional structural reinforcement to offset the wind load.

But the parties say they are certain that the antenna will not cause health concerns or interference with electronic devices, including other radio stations, as the standard to protect Montefiore's equipment is much more stringent than the FCC's health and safety guidelines. "There will be none," said McShane about the health risks.

While Montefiore's offer is promising, the deal is not yet sealed as it must go through a rigorous review process. There will be a public hearing leading up to a review by the city's Board of Standards and Appeals, which must issue a permit. The FCC and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation will also have to weigh in on the proposal.

Having spoken to officials and some community members already, Muriana was confident that the plan will move ahead. "This is the most positive thing I've seen in a while, but I can't describe it as a slam dunk yet," he said.

While community members have had little time to react, the 204th Street/Bainbridge Avenue Merchant Association expressed some concern at their meeting last week. "We hope the community of Norwood does not have the same issues and concerns [with the tower] that the Botanical Garden had," said Anthony Rivieccio, who is also a Community Board 7 member. "Our hope and belief is that it will not be an eyesore."

Helene Hartman-Kutnowsky, a Bedford Park resident who listens to WFUV and practices nature photography in the Garden, was excited by the possible compromise. "It's nice to have a resolution that makes everyone happy," she said.

Ed. note: Mosholu Preservation Corporation, which publishes the Norwood News, is a not-for-profit support corporation of Montefiore Medical Center.

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