The proposal detailed plans to construct a cupola-like structure on top of a tower of the McDonalds, near the drive through window. Enclosed in the tower would be eight fourth-generation antennas that would allow T-Mobile users in that area to receive better cell phone reception. But commissioners turned down the project mainly because a city-required 300-foot buffer zone would limit what could be built on the former Home Depot site across the street.
The plans were approved by the city's planning department Sept. 2, which deemed them minor in nature and thus not required to receive the commission's approval. But Commissioner Phil Blank, who opposed the plans, appealed. The appeal was heard at the Sept. 24 commission meeting.
Jacob Reeves, a consultant hired by T-Mobile, said there is no cell phone coverage by the provider in that area of town and they would like to better serve customers.
Reeves said while many users currently receive cell signals through 3G or third-generation technology, 4G or fourth-generation is what cellular companies will start employing soon to serve the growing number of users, which is what the antennas the company was proposing to install.
He added that the antennas wouldn't be seen by the public since they would be enclosed into the building's stucco structure. An earlier plan to house a lesser number of antennae in a flag pole at the fast food chain was seen as unattractive because the pole would look abnormally thick and out of scale. Reeves said that plan was also less desirable because employing less antennas would mean less signal quality, which wouldn't make it viable for T-Mobile to use.
But commissioners weren't too sympathetic to the provider's plea.
"This is a major entryway into the city," said Blank, who half-apologetically referred to the design as "ugly."
Commissioner Anne Fox said the projected height increase of about 9 feet would make the tower more visible from recreational areas such as Shadow Cliffs.
A city ordinance that prevents "sensitive populations" from within 300 feet of a cell tower put commissioners over the top on upholding the appeal. Across the street from McDonalds lies a 14.7-acre vacant parcel that was once planned to be a second Home Depot. That plan was roundly criticized by residents who were worried about its financial viability, traffic and other quality-of-life issues.
The city has also tried to court grocery stores to the site, which is owned by Frank auf der Mar, but has had no luck. The buffer zone would mean that a portion of the vacant property would be limited from uses such as a church, senior assisted living facility or child care center which would serve vulnerable populations--seniors and children--for long periods of time. Curiously, while notices that the project was being appealed were sent to property owners within 1,000 feet of the site, no one, including Auf der Mar, voiced their opposition.
But commissioners said they would be remiss if they allowed the cell tower, thus putting a limitation on what could be built across the street.
"I wouldn't want to limit it, especially with it being a controversial property," Fox said.
Commissioner Kathy Narum was the lone dissenting vote on the appeal. Reeves can appeal the decision to the City Council within 15 days.