In a unanimous decision Wednesday, the Planning and Zoning Commission denied a conditional use permit for a proposed cell tower on a piece of land owned by the United Trinity Methodist Church.
The tower, which had proven controversial among neighbors of the church, was located in a residential zone and thus considered a disfavored site, according to the city’s zoning code.
This meant Pinnacle Consulting had to show both that there was a need for improvements to service in the area and that there were no other existing towers that could fill that need. The code also required that the applicant show there were no alternative sites that could work.
Neil Gullickson, city planning development manager, said city staff looked at the service provided currently and the projected service should a tower be built, and felt that based on that data, the best site was the one proposed.
“Looking at the site [Pinnacle Consulting] proposed and the location they proposed on that site, they pushed that site [away from the residential area] to the very north part of the church’s property,” Gullickson said. “Frankly, in my experience, I thought that was a pretty good spot, if you have to locate a tower in this area.”
But members of the commission were not convinced and did not believe Pinnacle Consulting had adequately shown the service was needed.
“I appreciate that the staff reviewed this and that it complied with a viable application in terms of sighting of alternatives, [but] I didn’t see it,” commissioner David Zimmerman said. “I haven’t seen it. I don’t want to approve this without it.”
Zimmerman added the substantial amount of public opposition they had received to the proposed site was a factor in his decision. And he wondered if there truly had been a need for improved cell service in the area, they would have heard from far more supporters of the new tower.
“I assume if people’s cell service was being impacted and it wasn’t working well, I would see a lot of people coming and saying, ‘I’m not getting the service I expect,’” Zimmerman said.
Other commissioners agreed, with several members suggesting the public comments had been a factor in their decision.
But commissioners also had concerns over public safety should the tower be built, particularly due to a interstate, high-pressure gas line that passes under the church's property. The apprehension over the site’s proximity to the gas line was also brought up by nearby residents, who feared an accident with the tower could lead to a gas line explosion.
Commission chairman Margo Wheeler suggested that if they approved the tower, the commission could make some requirements to help ensure safety. Wheeler suggested requiring written approval of the site by Kinder Morgan, the company that owns the pipeline, and that an emergency response plan be drawn up, submitted to the city and signed by both Verizon and Kinder Morgan.
But in the end, the commission felt this would not have been enough to resolve the public safety concerns.
Keith McClanahan, who sits on the church’s board, said they were surprised at the pushback they had received from nearby residents and the commission.
“We’re never looking to create an argument with our neighbors,” McClanahan said.
McClanahan said they were also somewhat concerned that the commission had pointed to the gas line as a reason to deny the application. The church has about two acres of land on the other side of the gas line and he said they are now worried they will not be able to further develop it.
The commission’s decision on the proposed tower had been postponed from last month after the commission was informed that Pinnacle Consulting, which had proposed the tower, had not conducted a neighborhood meeting.
A spokesperson for Pinnacle Consulting was not available to comment, but Gullickson said the company may appeal the commission’s decision.