Tinley Park plan commissioners narrowly endorsed 129-foot-tall cellular towers at Christa McAuliffe and Helen Keller schools, accepting AT&T's argument that they were needed to improve cellular service and wouldn't be detrimental to the neighborhoods.
But commissioners unanimously opposed AT&T's proposed 100-foot-tall cell tower at John A. Bannes Elementary School after a spirited discussion that included concerns the monopole's height prevents it from accommodating other companies' microwave antennas. That limitation, they reasoned, could lead to a proliferation of cell towers.
"Just because it's allowable doesn't mean we have to grant it every time," said Plan Commissioner Bob McClellan of the proposed towers at Christa McAuliffe and Helen Keller.
Amy Connolly, planning director, termed AT&T's three-pronged request "probably one of the more complicated cases I've worked on."
Because of the specialized knowledge required, Tinley Park hired a cell tower consultant to assist village staff in analyzing the requests and supporting information.
The village, Connolly said, has established a general site ranking that gives priority to village-owned properties. Second choice is property owned by parks, schools and other tax-supported entities.
AT&T selected the schools because no village properties were suitable.
Erection of the towers and associated equipment buildings at the schools on the 8900 block of West 174th Street, 7800 block of West 163rd Street and 16800 block of Odell Avenue, would mean $1,850 per location per month to the Kirby School District, with an annual 3 percent increase. The Kirby school board approved the contract in November.
The recent plan commission meeting, chaired by Tom "Doc" Mahoney, drew roughly four dozen residents primarily concerned about property values and health-related issues.
John Lenahan, an attorney representing AT&T, responded to the health concerns, saying radiation isn't an issue because the towers meet Federal Communications Commission standards. Lenahan, who specializes in communications law, added that the American Cancer Society and World Health Organization have given a clean bill of health to towers that conform to governmental standards.
Appraiser David Kunkel, a real estate expert used by AT&T and other cell-tower developers, said towers don't substantially diminish nearby property values and cited an unspecified "summary" of residential properties in different price ranges.
McClellan took exception to Kunkel's use of the word "substantially," calling it "an arbitrary number," adding that it depends on the homeowner's perspective -- "$100? $500? $20,000? when you're trying to sell."
Resident Sarah Reid attempted to counter Kunkel's findings, citing a different unspecified study she said "found a 2 to 20 percent decrease in property values" from such towers. She also said the proposed monopole at Christa McAuliffe would affect her family's enjoyment of life. She and her husband moved to Tinley Park because it "is an ideal place to live, an idyllic place ... only to now realize we are going to be living across the street from a cell tower," she said.
The plan commission's recommendations will be forwarded to the village board, which will make a final decision on each tower.
Village Trustee Greg Hannon, the village board's liaison, said he thought "all the right questions were asked by the plan commission."
"It was a well-run informational meeting," Hannon said, noting it ran past midnight. "Commissioners could make, and did make, a logical conclusion, whether it was 'yes or no'."
Acknowledging the Christa McAuliffe and Helen Keller monopoles will require a height variance, Hannon said he doesn't think there is a need for Tinley Park to raise its 100-foot cap on cell towers.
Plan Commissioner Jeff Ficaro recused himself from all discussions and actions related to the three requests because he is a Kirby School District board member. Mahoney retired from AT&T after 41 years, but receives no pension or financial consideration from the corporation.