Politics & Government

Wichita council sends controversial cell tower proposal back to planning commission

The Wichita City Council has voted unanimously to return a proposal that would place an 80-foot wireless communication tower at 18th and Woodland to the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission for further consideration. The vote Tuesday comes after more than 81% of surrounding property owners signed a protest petition against the T-Mobile tower.

North Riverside Neighborhood Association President Claire Willenberg told The Eagle the vote was disappointing because the council didn’t flat out refuse to approve a conditional use permit that would allow construction of the tower behind a vehicle repair shop on the northwest corner of the intersection.

But she also said it’s a positive move because residents will have another chance to argue their case to MAPC.

“Core neighborhoods — the older neighborhoods — really struggle to maintain a livable, vibrant community. ... We work continuously trying to improve the visual environment,” Willenberg said, adding that some residents aren’t convinced they need the added data capacity the T-Mobile tower would bring to the area.

She thinks a smaller tower like other carriers use around town would be sufficient.

“Maybe some of those construction people who are on that particular (MAPC) organization might listen a bit more to us,” said Francene Sharp, a resident who also opposes the tower.

The neighborhood is technically a “limited commercial” zone — with a specialty upholsterer, auto repair shop and an office complex among businesses — but is mostly houses. The 80-foot tower would sit in a nearly 45-foot by 35-foot compound enclosed by a fence, be a matte and unobtrusive color like silver or gray and include a 5-foot lightning rod at its top.

Residents who don’t want it worry the tower would threaten property values and detract from the neighborhood’s character. At least two nearby homes are eligible for historic status.

Council member Cindy Claycomb, whose district include North Riverside, made the motion to send the proposal back to MAPC.

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Amy Renee Leiker has been reporting for The Wichita Eagle since 2010. She covers crime, courts and breaking news and updates the newspaper’s online databases. You can reach her at 316-268-6644. She’s an avid reader and mom of three in her non-work time.