The Westwood City Council is bringing the city’s Planning Commission back into the debate over what to do about a controversial broadcast property owned by Entercom Communications.
The commission sent the City Council a recommendation to approve a special use permit, which applies to unconventional land uses such as broadcast towers, for Entercom to continue operations on its site at 50th Street and Belinder Road. But the company would be required to meet 12 conditional requirements, some intended to improve the property’s appearance.
Entercom put forth its own modifications to the Planning Commission’s conditions at a City Council meeting this month, and the council ultimately decided to send the issue back to the commission for review after about two hours of debate. The commission meets next on Feb. 3.
The Entercom property, which shares its boundary with residential areas, encompasses two broadcast towers and a building the company no longer uses. Neighbors spoke to the Planning Commission in November and came forth again at the council meeting on Jan. 9. They complained about the lack of action taken to improve the property so it will fit in with the neighborhood.
The commission’s recommendations included removing, improving or replacing sections of the perimeter fencing that encloses the property and installing timed lighting for the broadcast building. The company applied for a five-year permit renewal, but the commission recommended a three-year renewal.
Entercom attorney Ed Bullard said the commission’s stipulations were different from the safety and compliance conditions placed on previous permit renewals for the property.
“Unlike the stipulations proposed in the past, these related primarily to aesthetic issues and issues that relate to a limited number of residents,” he said.
Neighbors who spoke at the meeting voiced major concerns about the chain-link fence, topped in places by barbed wire, that runs the border of the property. Calling it an “eyesore,” residents favored significantly altering or removing the perimeter fence entirely.
Julie Peterson said she was disappointed that the company had stalled for decades in changing the fence to fit the character of the neighborhood. She said gaps and holes in the fence that she’s seen do little to prevent people from entering the property.
“I was just hoping Entercom would be a good neighbor,” she said. “I can’t imagine it’s that huge of an expense or a worry to them to just make their property look better. We’ve put up with it for decades. To see that eyesore every day for 16 years is just disappointing.”
Frank Koranda noted that he’s had his Booth Street house on the market for five months. He said he’s received no offers but has heard feedback that the fencing poses problems for prospective homebuyers.
“What about consolidating our energy and improving, broadening and expanding the fences around the areas that hurt and taking down the fence that’s on the outside perimeter that you can barely maintain?” Koranda asked.
Council members and residents asked why Entercom’s other property on Mission Road in Prairie Village features fencing around an individual tower instead of perimeter fencing.
“You can’t climb the tower in Westwood without being fried,” Bullard said. “It’s powered up. It’s under a different arrangement with city with respect to zoning. It’s under a different arrangement with the city with respect to indemnification.”
Bullard and Dave Alpert, vice president and general manager of Entercom in Kansas City, said the fencing is necessary for safety.
“I think not only is it a deterrent, but taking it down would serve as an invitation,” Alpert said of the fence.
Bullard also noted that the modifications the company counter-proposed to the Planning Commission’s recommendations would help improve the property’s aesthetics.
“It’s something that maybe doesn’t get you the Prairie Village park-like setting that the neighbors seem to want but gets you a vastly improved chain-link fence,” Bullard said.
City attorney Ryan Denk said the fence could qualify as a “legitimate non-conforming use” — meaning that it was grandfathered in because it’s older than Westwood’s fencing standards. Under Federal Communications Commission requirements, a perimeter fence isn’t required, Denk said, but fencing around each tower is, depending on the tower’s strength.
Denk said an alternative to discussing the fence as part of the special use permit renewal process would be to determine whether the fence meets the city’s property codes and go through the code violation process if necessary.