A controversial plan to put a 100-foot communication tower in the Riverside neighborhood of Wichita cleared a major hurdle Thursday, despite numerous complaints from residents who say it would harm their quaint neighborhood.
The Planning Commission voted 10-1 in favor of the plan to allow the tower near 13th and Bitting, on land owned by developer Rob Snyder. Snyder tried a year ago to build senior housing at the site, but that was quashed by neighborhood opposition and many of the same residents now oppose the cell tower plan.
Thursday's vote sets up a potential showdown between the Planning Commission and the District Advisory Board in the area. Earlier this week, the DAB voted 8-1 to oppose the tower plan.
The Planning Commission decision technically approves the tower, but residents who oppose it will have a chance to appeal to the City Council and are virtually certain to do so.
The tower is proposed by a company called APC Towers and T-Mobile.
Greg Ferris, a former City Council member representing the applicants, said it is needed to meet expanding demand for cellphone data service and to improve indoor reception.
"There's never been a wireless carrier who ever built a facility they didn't need," Ferris said.
But neighbors said the reception is fine now.
"We had a cheapy cell phone there for many years and we never had any trouble," said Lori Leep, who owns a home near the tower site.
Others pleaded with the commissioners to vote down the tower in the interest of the neighborhood.
They said it would be an ugly addition to their skyline, potentially interfere with historic and Native American sites, and that the phone company could find better locations on nearby school or commercial property.
"Help us protect our property values and the charm of our neighborhood," said Madeline McCullough.
Ferris said he had looked at every possibility and couldn't find a usable location that wouldn't have caused bigger problem for the neighbors.
Commissioners were clearly swayed by a planning staff presentation listing what they couldn't consider in evaluating the tower, based on a new state law that passed after heavy lobbying by the phone industry.
That law prohibits the commission from legally considering most technical, environmental or historical impacts when evaluating cell tower proposals, said Principal Planner Dave Yearout.
Commissioner David Foster was the only opposition to the tower.
"What I don't see on this listing is the concept: does a cell tower fit in the neighborhood?" he said. "I think the neighbors that have taken time to come here today have clearly demonstrated this does not."
Commissioner Chuck Warren made the motion to approve the tower, saying it was just part of progress.
"There was a time when this was a pristine area," he said. "And people started building houses, they put the streets in, they put the streetlights in.
"Part of growth (is) we're a nation that survives on towers, because we have cell phones and we're upset if we don't have it."