Politics & Government

T-Mobile wants a tower in North Riverside. Neighbors don’t. City Council will decide.

Greg Ferris is at it again.

The former Wichita city councilman wants to build a cell phone tower in the North Riverside neighborhood and lease it to T-Mobile. The tower would help people in the neighborhood get better data coverage in their homes.

But neighbors don’t want it. The 80-foot tower is so unpopular that more than 80% of the surrounding property owners signed a protest petition against it.

This is the second time Ferris’s controversial tower proposal has been met with strong neighborhood opposition. He tried to have a 100-foot tower built at 13th and Bitting last year, but the City Council rejected the plan in May.

Ferris has since tried to put the tower at North High School and Marshall Middle School, but was denied by the district.

The place Ferris now wants to put the tower is a former auto shop at 18th and Woodland. That neighborhood is technically a “limited commercial” zone, but is almost entirely houses.

The big question for City Council on Tuesday will be whether the tower fits the “character of the neighborhood.” Neighboring property owners and area real estate professionals have expressed concerns that the tower would significantly lower nearby property values.

The tower would be 80 feet tall, with an extra 5-foot lightning rod at the top. It would have to be a monopole that’s silver, gray or “a similar unobtrusive color” with a matte finish to minimize glare.

The city’s staff report characterizes the surrounding neighborhood as “mixed,” with commercial uses “dominating the intersection” where the tower will go.

Susie Cunningham, who has been heavily involved in the movement to keep Ferris’s towers out of her neighborhood for two years, called that characterization “slanted.”

“How can you look at that vintage little neighborhood — it’s very unique, it’s not a cookie-cutter neighborhood — and say that an 80-foot, galvanized pole is consistent with the character of the neighborhood?” Cunningham said.

“All anyone has to do is look at an aerial map to see that’s no where in Riverside is dominated by commercial anything,” she said.

City Council member Cindy Claycomb, whose district includes North Riverside, said these kinds of decisions are tough, and federal and state laws limit what the City Council can take into consideration on something like this.

“But there are still things we can do,” Claycomb said.

At least some of the controversy for the current proposed location could be bad blood from the last proposal, but Claycomb said the situations are different.

The last cell phone tower would have been right along the Little Arkansas River and near several historic landmarks, and people didn’t want the tower there for those reasons, Claycomb said. The new location puts the tower smack-dab in the middle of a neighborhood, which brings a new set of concerns, she said.

“It’s tough to look through all of the evidence and see what makes sense,” Claycomb said.

“I think the neighbors thought, ‘Well, we defeated it once, and gosh what’s happening here?’ And I understand that. I also understand the vendor needing technology for the data that we all want to use.”

Ferris represents APC Telecom Services, which wants to build the tower and lease it to T-Mobile. Ferris declined to comment for this story.

Approval for the permit first went to the District 6 Advisory Board, where it was denied unanimously on March 4. Four days later, despite strong opposition from neighbors, the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission approved the license.

Now, the City Council is being tapped to make a final ruling. There are three ways it can go.

The council can approve the permit to build the tower. That would require 6 out of 7 votes because of the protest petition filed by neighbors.

The council can deny the permit with 5 out of 7 votes.

Or, with a simple majority, the council can kick it back to the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission.

City Council does not accept public comment on zoning issues, but Cunningham said she thinks opponents of the tower have been vocal enough with their concerns to make them known.

And it’s not personal, she said.

“We’re not against Greg Ferris,” she said. “He’s just the one who keeps trying to put up a cell phone tower in our neighborhood. We understand he has to make a living, but there are better places to put this.”