Politics & Government

T-Mobile sues Wichita to force City Council to allow Riverside cell tower

International telecommunications titan T-Mobile is suing the Wichita City Council, seeking a federal court order that would force the city to allow a cell phone tower in the Riverside area.

The suit alleges that the city violated the federal Telecommunications Act by rejecting two attempts to place a cell tower at two different sites in Riverside.

Both tries resulted in a public outcry from residents, who say a cell tower would harm aesthetics and reduce property values in their historic neighborhood.

In the filing, T-Mobile and tower builder APC Towers III claim that Wichita’s rulings have been unreasonable.

The company noted that more than half of Americans have “cut the cord” to their phone company and now receive wireless service only.

“To provide the service consumers demand, T-Mobile must build wireless facilities that will provide wireless signal coverage and also adequate network capacity to accommodate the radical increase in use,” the lawsuit said. “But Plaintiffs have encountered a general, ‘not in my back yard’ ‘NIMBY’ opposition to wireless facilities in the target area. Indeed, this case appeals the City’s unlawful denial of Plaintiffs’ second application to install a wireless facility in the area.”

Last year, T-Mobile filed for permits for a 100-foot monopole antenna on property southeast of 13th and Bitting, on land owned by developer Rob Snyder.

The council rejected that proposal, citing the historic significance of the immediate neighborhood and Mead Island in the Arkansas River, the former site of a council lodge of the Wichita tribe.

T-Mobile tried again this year, proposing an 80-foot antenna near an abandoned auto shop at 18th and Woodland. That application was rejected in May.

The lawsuit singled out council member Cindy Claycomb, who represents Riverside, for criticism.

It alleged she indicated in e-mails to T-Mobile’s local representative, former City Council member Greg Ferris, that the 18th and Woodland site would be acceptable.

But then she made the motion to reject the tower when it came to the council in May.

“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,” she explained at the time.

Claycomb and City Attorney Jennifer Magana declined comment before Tuesday’s council meeting.

The lawsuit seeks a court order directing City Hall to issue all necessary permits to build the tower, plus T-Mobile’s costs and attorney fees from the court case.

Contributing: Amy Renee Leiker of The Eagle

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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.