Plans for an 80-foot cell tower on the property of a Prosper ISD elementary school in McKinney came to a halt last week after the McKinney City Council voted on a thin margin to deny a rezoning request.
The July 6 decision, a 4-3 vote to deny, comes after the City Council tabled the item on May 18 to allow city staff and the applicant to discuss possible alternative locations.
During the meeting, Planning Director Jennifer Arnold said the applicant wanted to continue with its request on the property of Furr Elementary.
According to Mason Griffin, representing Hemphill, the applicant, alternative options for the tower location included a fire station. During the May 18 meeting, Griffin told council members that 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 at the time.
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.
On July 6, Griffin said another option was an amenity center, a candidate he said the company did not approach for concerns including a pond on the property that made tower siting “problematic” and flood-related setback issues. The final option Griffin listed was Furr Elementary, which he said would provide the best coverage with the least impact on the neighborhood.
“And it’s the only remaining option that addresses the coverage need adequately,” Griffin said.
Griffin, using a map of Verizon’s coverage, said the tower placement aimed to address what he said were coverage and capacity deficiencies in the area. He said AT&T had also expressed interest in being on the tower pending city approval.
“The goal again is to provide safe and secure 911 services to the neighborhood and the school, it’s necessary infrastructure for a growing city, and especially as we get increases in work from home demands, better coverage and higher capacity become necessary,” Griffin said.
Griffin listed nearby schools that have towers, including at Cobb Middle School in Frisco ISD and at Hendrick Middle School in Plano ISD.
“School districts all over the Metroplex, all over the country, are regularly installing these towers on school property with little to no issues as far as we know,” Griffin said.
Arnold said Prosper ISD supported the tower’s proposed placement at the school.
Raul Ramos, representing Verizon, told City Council members placing the tower at a nearby city-owned water tower would only provide about 40% of the needed coverage to the area in question compared to the 80-90% that could be provided if the tower were placed next to the school.
During the meeting, Mayor George Fuller pointed out that the city can’t consider the environmental effects or health concerns related to radio frequency emissions for such decisions.
Council members Rick Franklin, Frederick Frazier and Charlie Philips all spoke against the proposal. Franklin and Frazier both said they didn’t feel the location was appropriate and suggested the company be willing to put in two towers in the area if necessary.
“I believe there is substantial evidence that there are alternative sites that would equally serve the telecommunications needs of Verizon located within the specific area,” Philips said, “and because of that substantial evidence, I would vote against this.”
Mayor Pro Tem Rainey Rogers spoke in favor of the proposed location and mentioned that other schools have towers.
“If it was truly a concern, I think it would be addressed, but the school doesn’t have an issue with it, in fact they’re welcoming it,” Rogers said. “I’m sure the homeowners are really going to appreciate it, and I think we’d be foolish not to approve this.”
Philips, Frazer, Franklin and Council Member Geré Feltus voted to deny the rezoning request. Fuller, Rogers and Council Member Justin Beller voted against the denial.