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Council OKs cell tower despite neighborhood ojections

By Ken Stephens

The Hutchinson News

The Hutchinson City Council approved a permit for a 150-foot cell phone tower at 1200 W. 15th Ave. on Tuesday despite the objections of nearby residents chiefly concerned about higher risks of contracting cancer caused by radiation from the tower.

Although there are only three residences within the 200 feet of the tower site, opponents gathered signatures of 23 nearby residents who objected to the tower.

"Cell towers don't belong in residential areas," said Alan Webster of 1609 N. Graber.

His wife, Judy, cited a number of reports she found on the Internet about studies purporting that cell phone towers increased the chances of getting cancer by 2, 3 or 100 times normal.

However, Richard Gaito of Nex-Tech Wireless, the company that wants to erect the tower, said the equipment that would be mounted on the tower has been approved by the Federal Communications Commission and emits less than 2 percent of the maximum permissible radiation exposure.

Janice Ringold, whose mother, Patricia Schultz, lives near the site, argued that the Planning Commission, which voted 8-0 to recommend approval of the conditional use permit, had not investigated alternative sites for the tower, including Rice Park, and that city staff had not responded to calls from nearby residents.

City Manager John Deardoff said a long-standing city policy has prohibited towers in city parks, and he said that if they opened a park up to use for a cell tower by one company they would have to do so for all cellular phone companies. City Attorney Paul Brown also said that the park land, currently tax exempt, would be taxable if it was not reserved exclusively for city use.

Some of the nearby residents also complained about alleged noise, parking problems, reckless driving and drunken behavior at the Knights of Columbus, on whose property the tower will be built. They didn't see why their objections should be ignored to suit the business purposes of the Knights of Columbus, which will collect rent from Nex-Tech.

However, Benjamin Fisher, representing the Knights of Columbus, said all the income from Nex-Tech would be distributed to local charities. "The reason we decided to do it is to increase charitable contributions to the community," he said.

Fisher, who lives just to the north and within site of where the tower will be built, said that despite claims that no one in the neighborhood supported the tower, no one had ever come by his house to ask his opinion.

Josie Thompson, chairwoman of the Planning Commission, said the commission recommended approval of the permit after finding that the tower posed no detrimental effects. She said it would be concealed by a fence at the base, emit little noise and low amounts of radiation. The monopole is designed to collapse on itself within a 25-foot radius, eliminating the possibility that it could fall on adjacent property, another concern that had been raised.

Although he voted in favor of the conditional use permit, Council Member Jon Daveline said he respected the concerns of the neighbors, especially on the health issue. He urged that city staff search for "some independent entity to clarify the health issue" and get that information to nearby residents.

Council Members Jade Piros de Carvalho and Nancy Soldner also voted to approve the permit. Mayor Cindy Proett and Council Member Bob Bush were absent. In other business Tuesday, the Council:

--Approved an interim agreement under which the Hutchinson Recreation Commission will operate Fun Valley and Hobart Detter Field for the city. The initial contract runs only through Dec. 31, but the agreement anticipates that the city and the Recreation Commission will present an annual agreement to the council before the end of the year.

--Approved a $667,508 contract with Mies Construction of Wichita for construction of streets, water lines and sanitary sewers in the Kisiwa North addition, which will have eight duplex lots on 3.9 acres near Kisiwa Village Road and Dakota Drive.

--Approved a $802,329 contract with Nowak Construction of Goddard for construction of streets and water and sewer lines in the Quail Ridge subdivision, which will have 27 single-family homes on about 20 acres north of 43rd Avenue at Panorama Dr.

--Approved a community gardens program handbook, including incentives, standards and suggested rules, as recommended by the Community Improvements Commission.

Deardoff also announced that the city learned Tuesday that the Kansas Department of Transportation has awarded a grant to pay 70 percent of the $1.1 million cost of constructing streetscape improvements on Main Street between Third and Fifth Avenues. The streetscape includes new sidewalks, curbs, gutters, ADA ramps, storm sewer lines, parking, landscaping, sidewalk tables and seating and lighting, much like that farther south on Main Street.

The grant would pay $769,089, while the city will pay 30 percent of the construction costs, or $329,589, plus $97,199 in design costs.

(c)2014 The Hutchinson News