Marion Community Schools (MCS) Superintendent Brad Lindsay said Grant County officials will need to find a new site to place a 300-foot radio tower after residents expressed opposition to building the tower on district-owned land.
The tower within the city is one of three public safety communication towers the county is constructing as part of the $3.8-million Phase 2 of the central dispatch project. County leaders say the towers will help provide better radio coverage to first responders across the county.
The Marion Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) was scheduled to vote on a special exception to allow the tower to be built at 2009 W. Kem Road in a field next to Kendall Elementary School and across from Justice Thurgood Marshall Intermediate School at its meeting Tuesday, but only two members were present. The board did not have a quorum.
While the board could not take formal action, it allowed those for and against the proposed tower location to speak.
Terry Burnworth of Pyramid Architecture, the county’s project managing company, said no existing towers in the county would meet the various requirements needed for the new tower. He said the requirements include being broadband capable, being out of a hazardous area, and being built to a public-safety grade that is supposed to be able to withstand tornadoes or other severe weather.
Burnworth said the tower would be placed in the back corner of the field next to Kendall, which is directly behind the backyards of homes on Ivanhoe Drive.
At the meeting, Lindsay said the district is in full support of the project and giving better radio coverage for first responders that serve the community, but the district came into the meeting non-committal to the district-owned site and wanted to hear from neighbors in the community. He also noted that if the tower is built on that field, that eliminates any future opportunity for athletic or recreational uses or any other expansion and development to benefit the “campus feel” of Kendall and Justice for at least the next 50 years.
Resident Duane Church of the Sunnycrest Neighborhood Association said while he and his neighbors support the new communications system, they don’t want the tower in their neighborhood.
“This thing is huge, especially the diesel generator that will have to be cycled every week,” he said. “This is just right next to houses and it’s too close...We’re concerned about not just the noise of the diesel, but the traffic of the service vehicles and what’s this going to do to our property values to have this big 300-foot tower.”
Church proposed alternate locations nearby on Vinson Drive or at Marion Fire Station No. 5 on Kem Road that would still be closer to power and fiber connections, and both locations would not have houses so close to the tower.
Councilman Jim Brunner also spoke in opposition, stating he has received more phone calls, emails, letters and visits from constituents regarding the proposed tower than on any other issue over his 16 years on the Marion school board and 12 years on city council.
“So I think this is more than just a few people being concerned about a location,” Brunner said.
Brunner read from a letter from retired Marion Police Department officer Wayne Ellis who lives in the neighborhood. Ellis said a tower would disrupt the views and the integrated feeling of the neighborhood, but most importantly he questioned the safety of putting a tower in such a heavily-trafficked area.
“Safety, safety, safety should be our No. 1 priority,” Ellis wrote in the letter. “There is no place on this parcel of land where a 300-foot tower can be placed that would guarantee the safety of children, community members and dwellings in the event of structural failure.”
After hearing from community members, Lindsay said the county should find an alternate site, and on Wednesday he confirmed the district is no longer supporting construction of the tower at the Kendall field.
“We want the greater good but we want to be conscious of what our neighbors felt, and so I’d be comfortable for me to say on behalf of Marion Community Schools that we support the neighbors feelings,” Lindsay said at the meeting.
The board asked if the county had alternate sites in mind, and Burnworth said they have identified another possible site on North Miller Avenue across from Justice that would already be zoned to allow a tower construction without approval from the BZA. The alternate site would require an additional expense to connect to fiber and is on private land, so a memorandum of understanding would need to be agreed to by the county and the owner.
One tower location at the Walnut Creek Golf Course was approved by the county BZA Monday, with the board still considering approval for the third tower at the former Liberty Elementary School at Strawtown Pike and 800 S in Fairmount.
Since there was no quorum and other business on the agenda that was not addressed, the Marion BZA will meet again next Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 2 p.m. in Marion City Council Chambers.