City Council Rejects Bid To Build Cell Tower In North Riverside

May 14, 2019

The Wichita City Council turned down a proposal Tuesday to build an 80-foot wireless communications tower at the intersection of 18th and Woodland in North Riverside.

The large metal pole would have had a 5-foot lightning rod on top making it even taller. The pole was intended to provide more data to cellular customers in the area.

There was strong neighborhood opposition to the tower.

Former council member Greg Ferris proposed the cell tower. In May 2018, he tried unsuccessfully to get approval to build one in the Riverside area, at 13th and Bitting.

Both times he planned to lease the tower to T-Mobile. The company is reportedly having data streaming issues in the area but not a wireless connectivity problem.

The motion to deny the request passed 5-2 with James Clendenin and Bryan Frye voting to allow it.

Before the vote, City Council representative Cindy Claycomb — whose district includes North Riverside — said aesthetics were at the heart of the issue, leading the neighborhood to be overwhelmingly opposed to the tower.

“This area is predominantly residential,” Claycomb said. “While it has some limited commercial zoning, it’s comprised of one-story shops, not larger industrial facilities.”

Claycomb’s arguments against the tower cited residents' frustrations about its adjacency to homes and its potential effects on property values. There were also health and safety concerns.

It was Claycomb who proposed a motion to override the recommendation of the Metropolitan Area Planning Department — which voted to allow the tower — and deny the request.

“While we cannot base our decision solely on neighborhood opposition, we must take into account that there was an 81 percent protest,” she said. “I don’t recall a protest this large on other zoning cases.”

Claycomb said she has a hard time believing that companies can’t come up with a better solution.

“It is frustrating to me that less intrusive technology has not been developed to use in these historic urban neighborhood settings,” Claycomb said.

As for whether another tower proposal for North Riverside is coming in the future, Claycomb said it wouldn’t surprise her.

Last year she was told that the spot along the river — the original cell tower proposal site — was the only location in Riverside that could work to fix the data problems.

“I was told the same thing this time around as well," she said. “Nothing would surprise me at this point.”

Audrey Korte is an intern in the KMUW News Lab.