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Better wi-fi comes with aesthetic cost
Modern meets historic4.jpg
The city of McMinnville has provided free wi-fi to downtown visitors. Antennas now adorn the tops of many downtown buildings, a situation that has drawn discontent from Historic Zoning Commission members. - photo by Lisa Hobbs

Antennas to boost wi-fi reception in downtown McMinnville have collided with historic preservation efforts. 

McMinnville Historic Zoning Commission members have questioned the placement of numerous wi-fi antennas on the tops of buildings along Main Street, from Chancery to Spring streets. 

Members were told Tuesday that the Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved placement of those and, unlike other downtown property owners, the city is not required to first obtain a certificate of appropriateness from the commission. 

“The city of McMinnville is exempt from the codes as they relate to historic zoning or zoning, period,” said city attorney Tim Pirtle. “The exemption only applies if the project proposed or improvement made is deemed a governmental or public purpose.”

Alderman Rachel Kirby, the city board’s representative on the Historic Zoning Commission asked, “What if we don’t want them?”

“The Board of Mayor and Aldermen adopted the project and approved the project. So, in a sense, that ship has sailed,” said Pirtle. 

Kirby offered her opinion that the location and size of the devices was not adequately relayed to board members when the agreement was under consideration. 

Michael Griffith was recently appointed to the Historic Zoning Commission.

“The city could still opt to comply with Historic Zoning preferences,” Griffith said.

Pirtle replied, “Absolutely.” 

Griffith said city officials should have applied for a certificate of appropriateness to maintain fairness because, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” and exempting itself puts Historic Zoning Commission members in a precarious situation when it has to enforce those guidelines on others who are not exempt. 

In attendance as a visitor was Alderman Steve Harvey.

“I think the focus got to be on what the coverage would be and how much it was going to cost that we lost sight of what it was going to look like,” said Harvey. “We were really worried about how much money we would spend. Do we include the Farmers Market? What are we getting for what we’re spending?”

Kirby agreed with that assessment. 

The city of McMinnville provided wi-fi downtown as a free service. It contracted with Ben Lomand Connect and used a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to pay half the cost.