Verizon files lawsuit to force city to approve East Lawrence telecommunications tower

This photo simulation shows a proposed 120-foot-tall cell tower at 1725 Bullene Ave. in eastern Lawrence.

Verizon Wireless has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to force the city to approve construction of a controversial East Lawrence telecommunications phone tower that neighbors in the area have vehemently opposed.

Verizon filed the case last week in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., and alleges that the City Commission violated federal telecommunications law when it unanimously denied a permit for the 120-foot tower, which was proposed for 1725 Bullene Avenue on a piece of ground along the Burroughs Creek Trail.

“The City Commission’s findings are based upon generalized and unsubstantiated ‘not in my backyard’ concerns and not based upon or supported by substantial evidence,” attorneys for Verizon say in the lawsuit, which is being represented by the Polsinelli law firm in Kansas City.

This photo simulation shows a proposed 120-foot-tall cell tower at 1725 Bullene Ave. in eastern Lawrence.

A large contingent of neighbors attended Dec. 9 City Commission meeting, and told commissioners that project was too close to existing homes, would diminish property values, and that Verizon had not done all it could to find alternate locations.

City commissioners ultimately sided with neighbors, and said Verizon should consider striking a deal with The Salvation Army, which owns a vacant piece of ground along Haskell Avenue. The site is only a few hundred feet away from Verizon’s preferred site, but it would provide more separation from homes than the proposed site.

Attorneys for Verizon, in its court filing, said The Salvation Army site would be more intrusive than what has been proposed. The lawsuit also alleges the city is overstepping its bounds by steering the company to an alternative site. The company argues the city code only requires Verizon to show that there are no other existing towers or other structures that can house the company’s equipment. The Salvation Army site is a vacant parcel.

The lawsuit also alleges that the city did not follow proper procedure under the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, which puts limits on how a city can reject an application for telecommunication towers.

City Attorney Toni Wheeler said the city will file its response to the lawsuit in the coming weeks.

“We will defend the City Commission’s decision, and believe the decision is appropriate under the law,” Wheeler said.