Politics & Government

Wichita Riverside neighborhood celebrates victory over cell tower plan

The Wichita City Council chopped down another plan for a cell tower in Riverside on Tuesday.

The proposed 80-foot tower at Woodland and 18th marked the second attempt to gain approval for a facility that T-Mobile says is necessary to keep up with expanding demand for smartphone mobile data services.

The public wasn’t allowed to speak during council consideration of the tower, but neighbors were celebrating at an impromptu news conference right after the meeting.

They say a cell tower would harm the aesthetic atmosphere and property values of their older neighborhood and there’s no place in Riverside where one would be acceptable.

A year ago, they beat back a similar proposal by developer Rob Snyder, who wanted to build a tower for T-Mobile on land he owns near the corner of 13th and Bitting.

“It’s great that it’s a precedent, that there is protection needed for the first-tier neighborhoods particularly, that are more historic and really have less voice politically,” said Claire Willenberg, a leader of the opposition to the towers.

The residents dispute T-Mobile’s contention that better coverage is needed in the area.

“There’s so many large towers on the outside of Riverside that could be used,” said Beth Harshfield, who owns property near the commercial site where the tower was proposed.

The neighbors and their lawyer, civil rights attorney James Thompson, said the area would be better served by an array of small cell towers, rather than a tall monopole.

More than 80 percent of property owners near the tower signed a petition protesting it.

That triggers a requirement that six of the seven council members were needed to approve the tower, while it could be rejected with only four of seven votes.

In the end, it didn’t matter.

The final vote was 5-2 against the tower with Bryan Frye and James Clendenin voting to allow it.

Clendenin said he supported the tower because it was on property zoned for commercial use and that there’s a widening technology gap in Wichita leaving large areas underserved.

“The less infrastructure we have, the wider that gap gets,” he said.

Council member Cindy Claycomb led the charge against the tower.

“The aesthetics, or the visual appearance of this tower, are at the heart of this issue,” Claycomb said. “If you drive over there and look around, it is predominantly residential, and while it has some limited commercial zoning, it’s comprised of one-story shops, not large industrial buildings.”

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Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.