Holly Howe's mock up of the way the tower would look
Photo by George Lauby
Hirsekorn addresses the council
Photo by George Lauby
The North Platte city council voted Tuesday against permitting a 100-foot cell phone tower to be erected at Fourth and Willow.
The vote was 6-2, and came after nearly two hours of testimony.
Many residents of the neighborhood spoke against the tower. Some of them spoke 2-3 times, as Mayor Marc Kaschke allowed testifiers to rebut statements made by other testifiers.
When it came time to vote, Councilwoman Judy Pederson moved to allow the tower to be built. Councilman Larry Campbell seconded, but they were the only two who voted yes.
At Councilman Dan McGuire's urging, Councilman Jerry Stoll moved to deny the plan because it was not in harmony with the character of the area and not the best use of the property. McGuire seconded and the council agreed, 6-2.
Resident Holly Howe, who lives across the street and operates Photographic Images on the corner, said the tower would be a tremendous eyesore in the neighborhood, which is the oldest residential section in town.
Howe said the tower would be an eyesore not just for residents, but also for the 13,770 cars a day that drive through the intersection. She passed large mock up photographs of the tower to council members.
Howe also predicted property values would go down.
Mostly, Howe said the tower would cause the neighborhood’s historical character to deteriorate.
Viaero Wireless spokesman Bob Hirsekorn said the company would build an office and warehouse building with a businesslike frontage along Fourth and Willow, along with a six-foot tall cedar fence around the back part of the lot.
The tower would rise from the middle of the lot and be virtually overlooked once people got used to it, he said during a power point show of the look of the new building and lower part of the tower.
The tower would take radio frequency signals and conduct them to the Century Link building two blocks away through a fiber optic cable. That would not only improve Viaero's cell phone signals in the middle of North Platte, but also help provide 4 Gig coverage and large amounts of data to cell phone users throughout central Nebraska, including such places as Arthur and Valentine, Hirsekorn said.
Hirsekorn said the company has another option – to “trench in new fiber” optic cable from farther away to the Century Link building, but that would be less reliable than the tower because fiber can be accidently cut, leading to major outages.
Several neighbors spoke in opposition.
But Lana Klein, who owns the lot, said it is a difficult property to sell because the major intersection makes driveways hazardous and the lot doesn’t have a lot of room for parking and a building.
“I had no idea the neighbors could tell me who I could sell it to,” she said. “If they wanted to do that, they should have owned it themselves.”
Klein noted that the property is in a business (B-1) zone. She said there are light poles and towers all over town.
“Nobody really looks up,” she said.
Many neighbors spoke against the tower, including residents Keith Howe, Dan and Vickie Allen, Gary and Elaine Mulvaney, Barbara Christensen, Jeff Brown and Deb Bertrand, who recently returned to North Platte and her grandparents house after 30 years in the Air Force.
Cynthia Gutschenritter, who lives two blocks away, was among a handful who spoke twice. Gutschenritter was opposed.
Elaine Mulvaney said the city should put the tower on the Iron Eagle golf course and charge rent to help cash flow the course. She said she was “dead dog serious,” but if not the course, the city industrial park would be a better place.
At the beginning of the meeting, City Attorney Doug Stack said the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 says city councils and planning commissions cannot regulate cell phone towers because of concerns about the emissions of radio frequencies, which some European studies indicate cause cancer.
Nevertheless, neighbor Bill Pigati addressed the issue.
“We haven’t heard of any studies as to why it’s safe,” he said. “It would be an eyesore, but the health and safety of my 11-year-old daughter, and myself, is my ultimate concern. Children play in the neighborhood. There's a school not all that far away."
Consumers shouldn’t have the burden of proof of the danger of a new development, developers should prove that it’s safe, Pigati said.
After more discussion, Judy Pederson moved to close the hearing, and the council unanimously agreed.
City Planning and Zoning Administrator Judy Clark suggested the council attach conditions to the permit, making the cedar fence a definite requirement.
Pederson agreed, made the motion and Campbell seconded.
“They have met every city regulation on our books and exceeded some,” Campbell said.
“I’ve seen one set of photos that show the tower as an example of loveliness and one set that shows it as an example of ugliness,” Councilman Jim Carman said during a brief discussion. “I expect somewhere in between lies the reality.”
Carman said photos by the developer don’t show the top of the tower, which seemed to be a clever omission.
He said he was siding with the residents, who live in the heart of the ward he represents.
“But this isn’t political,” he said. “I honestly don’t know that I care to serve another term (on the council.)”
Carman said he and his wife often deliberately travel on Fifth St. so they can see the beautiful historic homes and admire the way they are kept.
“My sympathies lie with the folks who live nearby and would be the most affected,” Carman said. “They would have to put up with this for a long, long time. I will vote no.”
Five other council members voted no too.