By Conrad Dudderar
A City of Yukon advisory board has rejected a request to allow AT&T Wireless to place a cell tower on school property in east Yukon.
Tillman Infrastructure LLC applied for a conditional use permit to allow a 95-foot communication tower with 4-foot lightning rod at 872 S Yukon Parkway. The applicant proposes erecting the monopole tower inside a 50-foot by 50-foot fenced area.
The Yukon Planning Commission, at its July 10 meeting, voted 5-0 to recommend denial of the CUP application. The Yukon City Council is due to hear the matter at its Aug. 15th meeting.
Planning commissioners heard from residents of several adjacent housing additions against the cell tower’s placement on Yukon Public Schools’ land.
The Centennial Building chambers were filled after 906 meeting notices were sent to neighboring property owners. Attendees applauded when the planning commission unanimously voted to recommend denial.
The 31.46-acre site is developed as Lakeview Intermediate School and includes athletic fields, a field house and concession stand.
Jacque Pearsall, of Majestic Avenue, said her home backs up to the fields.
Pearsall, who’s lived there since 2006, said 95 signed petitions were being submitted to the City of Yukon from people opposing this cell tower.
“This is not some cute little tower,” she said. “It doesn’t have a button nose on it. What is actually being proposed is a vertical strip mall. They call that area a ‘retail envelope’. The tower will have multiple sites for numerous co-locations or tenants in addition to AT&T.”
Quoting directly from Yukon’s city code regarding wireless communications towers and antennas, Pearsall said City of Yukon officials have the authority to approve this permit – but they don’t have to.
She believes this application does not meet statutory requirements for granting a permit by failing to:
- Protect the health, safety and general welfare of the community, public environment, property, and community aesthetics.
- Minimize the visual impact of towers.
- Maximize the use of existing and approved towers and buildings to accommodate multiple antennas to reduce the number of towers needed to serve the community.
Some 40 homes surround the Lakeview athletic fields near the proposed cell tower site.
Pearsall referred to studies that she said conservatively estimate a minimum $1,208,000 loss in home values as compared to an annual $16,672 in revenue Yukon Public Schools would gain from leasing the site.
“It’s going to take 72-1/2 years before the school (district) is going to make enough money that it will equal the financial devastation that is being done to those homes,” she told planning commissioners.
Pearsall believes this development would deprive local youths of regular use of the fields for baseball, soccer, rugby, and other sports.
NEW 5G TECHNOLOGY
The proposal calls for a 12-foot access road to be installed from the school parking lot to the AT&T cell tower site.
“This is a very small piece that we are taking out of use,” said Gregory Ferris of Ferris Consulting, who represents Tillman Infrastructure and AT&T Wireless. “The fields are still intact and there’s still major areas of open space that are intact.”
AT&T Wireless wants to increase coverage in Yukon with new 5G technology.
“AT&T doesn’t build towers it doesn’t need; it’s just too expensive,” Ferris emphasized. “There’s no reason for them to build a tower here if they didn’t need it.”
Ferris cited the need to provide “fast Internet” for Yukon’s AT&T customers. He noted about 60-65% of people today do not have land lines in their homes.
“If you do not have communication service or coverage in your house, you can sometimes not be able to call 911,” Ferris pointed out.
There are no other cell towers within one mile. And there is “no room” for AT&T on a water tower about one-quarter mile north (next to Skyview Elementary) that has other carriers’ antennas, according to Ferris.
AT&T’s antennas are located on other Yukon towers in the north, south and west parts of the city.
“We’re trying to ‘off-load’ some capacity on those as well,” Ferris explained.
He described the proposed 911-capable, AT&T FirstNet-dedicated tower on Yukon Parkway as “very short.”
“Normally, we’re building 125- to 140-foot towers,” Ferris noted. “This one is 95-feet tall.”
It would be landscaped and “blend in” with nearby 50-foot light standards, he added.
Ferris contended that Yukon’s city code has an especially restrictive setback requirement – 400 feet – for cell towers while limiting where AT&T can place a new tower to “this particular spot.”
“We’re 400 feet from the properties to the north and south – we’re well over that to the east and west,” he said.
Ferris referred to an independent study conducted by a property appraiser group that shows cell towers do not impact values of nearby properties.
But Pearsall pointed out this assessment was done by a commercial property valuation firm.
“They look at offices, buildings, multiple family locations,” she said. “They don’t look at residential properties.”
Ferris distributed copies of a National Cancer Institute study indicating a mobile phone has less radio frequency than a microwave oven and WiFi in someone’s home.
A ‘KIDS PLAYGROUND’
Denny Myers, of Dawn Avenue, argued this cell tower (including the fencing) would be too close to homes and is proposed to be placed on a lot much smaller than city code allows.
“The house that’s closest to it is my house,” said Myers, a former Yukon City Council member and code enforcement officer. “We always think of that area as a kids’ playground. That’s what it should be. That’s where the ballfields are. That’s where kids play. Kids like to go out there.”
Myers believes having a cell tower there with an 8-foot-high chain link fence would create a constructive nuisance because kids would try to get over the fence. Ferris later pointed out a wooden fence is being proposed.
As for a cell tower’s impact on nearby property values, Myers disagreed with Ferris’ cited assessment.
“It can affect the value of houses, and any study that says it can’t is just hallucinating,” he said. “He wouldn’t like it by his house. You wouldn’t like it by your house; you know it’s going to affect your home value.”
This AT&T Wireless tower “could be well-served in another location,” Myers advised planning commissioners.
“The school ground is not the place to do it on,” he said. “We don’t want to take the school ground away from kids.”
Nancy Seaton, of Lancaster Drive, said there are 43 towers within three miles of her home – and that includes three A&T towers.
“I’m still wondering why we need another AT&T tower,” Seaton said.
Ferris responded, saying all new towers being built are 4G- and 5G-capable.
“We’re not just trying to do coverage, we’re also trying to offload the capacity (of other towers),” he said. “These are $300,000-$500,000 investments. They don’t build them if they don’t need them.”
Kenneth Floyd, of Kingsway Court, believes the water tower by Sunrise Hills is in fact a cell tower. He’s lived there since 2005 and has an AT&T phone.
“I have extremely good service; never complain,” Floyd said.
The Kingsway Homeowners Association president believes the proposed AT&T tower behind Lakeview School would be a nuisance and eyesore – becoming a hazard that hadn’t been there.
“One of my kids went to school at Lakeview and we used that as a safe passage back to my house,” Floyd said. “Sunrise Hills, Kingsway and Kingsridge do the same.
“There would be better places to put it, instead of right in the middle of kids.”
Sherry McAlister, of Noble Court, shared her research about recent studies that indicate “close proximity” to a cell tower does indeed have a negative impact on property values and home sale prices.
McAlister shared that more research is needed to determine health effects. She questioned the need for this new AT&T cell tower.
“How fast are we going to go?” McAlister asked rhetorically. “Now we’ve got 5G. Are we going to go to 10, 20 G’s before we say it’s enough? My service is good enough for me.”
WOULD BE ‘PUBLIC NUISANCE’
Ryan Newton, of Regal Road, first lived in Sunrise Hills and now resides in the Kingsway Addition.
“The 12-foot-wide road would be a public nuisance,” Newton said. “My kids go to Lakeview, and they walk over there all the time for different school events. … The school uses it a lot and there’s a lot of access from the neighborhoods for people to walk in there.
“AT&T should be able to find a better area to place their tower than the minimum safety distance from the nearest residence.”
Sean Karn, of Excalibur Court, referred to the growth of his neighborhood and Yukon’s “land-locked” community. His father Hayden is a past Yukon parks and recreation director.
Karn has worked to upgrade and maintain the ballfields and land that backs up to his property.
“I’ve gone in and spent money after money out of my own back pocket for something that I love – which is the game of baseball,” he said, helping his youth baseball organization.
Expressing his support for Yukon’s strict city codes, Karn believes strongly that another spot can be found for this cell tower.
“Let’s just do what’s right for the community,” he said.