Four members of Sherman’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted Tuesday night to prohibit a free-standing cell phone tower on a tiny piece of land off U.S. Highway 82 at Hickory Street, citing local ordinances. Zone Systems, Inc. Representative Peter Kavanagh said the tower would have closed a major coverage gap in the middle of the city and provided 4G Internet access inside businesses and homes around the Town Center development.
“I think the first thing that most people want to know, wisely, is why in the world do we have to be where we’re asking to be,” said Kavanagh during his opening remarks to the commissioners. “In order to (provide the best coverage we can), we have to get antennas up in the air so people’s phones will work.”
The antenna’s initial tenant would have been Verizon Wireless, but the presenter noted that each of the other three major cellular carriers could have leased space on the pole as well. Kavanagh explained that cell phone companies prefer to attach their antennas to existing buildings, but the undeveloped nature of that particular area of Sherman precluded that option.
“What we try to do when possible is locate our antennas on an existing structure if there’s a structure available to us close enough to where we need to be. If there was already a church standing there or something like that, we could put our antennas up in the steeple and move on, but nothing like that is right there. So that’s why we have to — in this case, unlike a lot of other cases — actually build a new pole for our antennas to serve that area.”
Needing Commission approval to abate a half-dozen city ordinances regulating commercial buildings, Kavanagh argued the rules were designed to regulate brick-and-mortar stores, not cell phone towers. He pointed to an ordinance requiring a 400-foot setback from a nearby oil field, despite the fact that the property in question is only 56-feet wide to begin with.
“What we’re asking you to do is approve almost a crazy number of variances, but that’s the problem when you’re trying to put a stick up in the air to provide antenna to the area, there’s just a lot of limitations that the code has,” said Kavanagh. “The code’s anticipating (regulating) apartments and buildings and big parking lots and stuff like that, and none of those things are part of what a mobile telephone site needs.”
Had the antenna been approved, it would have occupied an oblong sliver of one-tenth an acre, with a footprint 42 feet on a side. Kavanagh’s explanations of the tower’s necessity seemed to fall on deaf ears, as Commission Chairman Don Hicks expressed reservations from the start and seemed little swayed by the cell phone industry’s line of reasoning.
“I guess my first thought is, if you need six variances to get in somewhere, that’s a lot,” said Hicks. “Are there no other sites that would accommodate what you need? I guess I have a hard time referencing how tall is 125 feet.”
Kavanagh responded that the communications tower would be about 25-feet shorter than a common highway light array. Pressed as to why the tower couldn’t simply be built according to the ordinance limit of 70 feet, Kavanagh suggested that such a height would be fine for a billboard but completely unfeasible for a communications tower designed to provide access to as many people as possible.
“The problem is the antennas send a signal out and they’re going through trees and buildings … and the lower you put the antenna, the more clutter, the more stuff you have to go through to find the point, so to speak,” explained Kavanagh. “If you put your antenna up higher, you’re only going through peoples’ roofs, you’re not going through your house and your house to get to my house. So 70 feet is probably not something we’re going to consider; it’s just too low for it work, period.”
Asked whether his clients could simply use several smaller antennas to accomplish coverage in the area, Kavanagh said: “Correct, if you built antennas all over the city.”
Sensing the commissioners were unconvinced, Kavanagh tried to impress upon the group that the only people they would be hurting through denial of his proposal were the citizens of the city.
“I can assure you that if the city feels this (antenna) is a problem, we’re going to be back,” said Kavanagh before the vote. “Because everybody here and everybody in this city still is going to expect their phone to work whether you all approve (this request) or not. It’s that simple.”
Commissioner Ryan Michael Kreck was the only member of the government body who concurred with Kavanagh’s assessment, with Hicks, Ron Barton, Joe Gilbert and Sam Thorpe constituting the majority.
Contacted after the final tally, landowner Wayne McCarley — who would have leased a corner of his lot for the antenna’s construction — politely demurred to the Commissioners’ authority but seemed flummoxed by their rationale.
“You know, we were talking about benefiting lots of people,” said McCarley through a thick, southern drawl. “I hate to lose the deal, of course, but you know the saying, ‘Can you hear me now?’”