By Jeff Harrison
Midwest City Beacon
Verizon Wireless won approval to construct a cell tower in Midwest City at last week’s city council meeting.
But it didn’t come without a struggle.
The telecommunications company requested a special use permit to construct a 110-foot cell tower at 600 N. Douglas Blvd. on property owned by Highland Park Baptist Church. The monopole cell tower will include a 10-foot lightning rod and associated equipment buildings.
City council members expressed frustration about the city’s lack of power in determining where cell towers are located within their municipal boundaries. That authority is granted to the federal government, which sets guidelines on where a cell tower can be built. Local governments can add requirements on the aesthetics and safety of the structures.
“Basically, whether we want to admit it or not, our hands are tied,” said Pat Byrne, Ward 2 Councilman, “Federal government has ruled that we have to allow this to happen. But the same ruling that the federal government made does allow us to put some restrictions on it.”
Byrne and councilwoman Españiola Bowen, whose Ward 3 includes the site of the planed tower, asked that the city include additional requirements that would limit the impact of the structure on neighboring residents.
Those requirements included:
- No commercial advertising or signage is permitted on any cell tower.
- If any tower is not operated or used for a period of 12 consecutive months, it shall be considered abandoned and the owner must remove it and all associated equipment, power supply, fence and other items associated with it. City staff can check quarterly to determine if the tower is still in operation.
- The tower must be visually buffered by a hedge of low-maintenance evergreen plant material or other approved screening material. The cell tower must also have a locked chain-link fence and a sign containing the tower owner’s name and contact information.
- The City of Midwest City may at any time request the tower owner to perform additional inspections if damaging winds, earthquakes, or other natural phenomenon or unexpected damages occur that may cause structural failure of the tower or facilities. The owner would have 30 days to make any repairs if damage is found that presents danger to other people or property.
A representative from Verizon agreed to the additional requirement. The council unanimously approved the special use permit.
Two members of the public spoke about the cell tower.
John Jones, pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church, said they are surprised by the negative feedback from residents about the cell tower.
“We did not expect the opposition that we’ve acquired in this effort,” he said. “We have been working on this process for about 18 months. In the process, we hired a lawyer to look through this contract and do it the right way.”
Jackie Parks, who lives next to the church property, said she is concerned about the safety of the tower and impact it has on the aesthetics of her property.
“I appreciate the pastor, but they’re probably only at the church a couple times a week, we’re there all the time,” she said.
She asked the council to consider creating a community board to provide input on future matters like this.
Councilwoman Susan Eads shared the resident’s frustration.
“I find it incomprehensible that we have citizens before us that have objection to the placement, and all we can say is ‘sorry there is nothing we can do’ because federal laws dictate that we have to accept in this location,” Eads said.
Several council members agreed with the sentiment. Byrne said the additional requirements included with this tower are the first steps in the right direction.