The McKinney City Council has postponed making a final decision on whether to allow placing a 5G cell tower next to an elementary school.
On May 18, the council considered a proposal from tower company Hemphill that would allow the company to place an 80-foot 5G cell tower on the property of Furr Elementary, a Prosper ISD school located in McKinney.
Mason Griffin, a representative for Hemphill, told council members that the proposed tower placement comes as a way to alleviate a coverage gap from Virginia Parkway to Westridge Boulevard. He added that the tower would also provide 911 service to those that need it.
According to a letter of intent submitted to the city, there are no other support structures in the center of the area, and almost all parcels of land in the area are zoned for residential use. The applicant team had explored putting the tower on the McKinney Fire Station No. 7 property but was turned down.
“As I understand it, the city has a policy in place that precludes leasing space on public property that’s intended for public safety uses,” Griffin said.
Frances La Rue, communications and media specialist with the city of McKinney, said in an April 30 email that the city does not have a written policy regarding cell towers on public safety facility property but evaluates each decision on a case-by-case basis.
The letter of intent states that the school site is the only available parcel with space and a willingness to accommodate the project.
The decision came before the City Council after the McKinney Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval for the item. Prior to the planning and zoning meeting, city officials received around 37 letters of opposition from the community concerning the tower, and Kaitlin Gibbon, a planner with the city, said concerns ranged from the location of the tower to health and safety concerns when it came to radio frequency emissions.
However, Gibbon added, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 renders the city limited in its authority on land use decisions, and the city can’t make decisions based on the environmental effects or health concerns from radio frequency emissions.
During the May 18 council meeting, McKinney resident Gary Harnack addressed the council regarding the tower, asking members to not approve the item.
“I feel the project treats the residents on Sailboard Drive as though we will not be affected by the negative visual impact and the potential property devaluation of this 80-foot tower,” Harnack said.
The item was met with hesitation from multiple council members, including Councilman Frederick Frazier, who asked Griffin if he would want the tower at his own children's school. Griffin said he would. He added that certain schools in Allen, Plano and Frisco have cell towers.
“What’s driving this tower, and frankly, what’s driving a lot of towers nationwide, is increasing use of higher and higher bandwidth applications on devices,” Griffin said.
Griffin also said the tower was a necessary piece of infrastructure for future economic development.
In the end, the City Council voted unanimously to table the item to its July 6 meeting.
“I can’t support this tower at this time,” Councilman Rick Franklin said. “I don’t think it’s the right location. I believe the concerns of the neighborhood should be heard, and I would much rather table this item and make sure that we actually have picked the best site for this cell tower.”
Other council members echoed Franklin’s comments, including Councilman Charlie Philips.
“Certainly I understand their concerns, I understand the act, but I don’t feel comfortable that this is the right location without exploring other options,” Philips said.