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Council nixes cell towerTell North Platte what you think
Photo by George Lauby
Homeowner Michael Sappenfield shows Councilman Jim Carman where his father's house is, about 250 feet from the proposed tower.
Courtesy Photo­Image
A similar tower in a residential area of Grand Island.
Photo by City of North Platte
Tower location, nearby houses. (click on image to enlarge)
Photo by City of North Platte
View of the tower from East Sixth. Erickson's property, truck and pickup, is at left.

The city council turned down an applicationTuesday from Viaero to build a cell phone tower on the east side of town, after six nearby property owners protested.

The vote came after more than an hour of comments by proponents and opponents. The council voted twice before it found a majority. The vote to reject Viaero's application was 4-2, with Andrew Lee and Glenn Petersen voting not to reject it.

Michelle McNea and Martin Steinbeck were absent.

The tower would have been located in a vacant lot behind the House Bar at 1600 East Fifth owned by Gilbert Rivera.

Six nearby residents protested.

"I don't like towers in my backyard," Mel Sappenfield said. "I am completely against it."

Mel's son Michael, who recently moved to North Platte from San Antonio to take care of his elderly dad, said he plans to sell the house in the not too distant future, and worries about the resale value of the house.

"I know of no woman who wants a home directly across from a big ugly tower," he said. "Ask my wife. There are enough places -- just north or east down the street -- where no residences would be affected."

Councilman Jim Carman called Sappenfield to his table to show exactly where the house is. Carman said it is at an angle about 255 feet away, not directly across. Sappenfield said he would give him that.

John Erickson said he has two properties nearby, and produced a map of a 100 foot radius of the tower, showing where it would fall in a tornado.

"It happens that there is plenty of room to fall the east and west, but if it fell north or south, it would fall across Fifth St. or across the power lines in the alley," he said.

City Attorney Doug Stack took Erickson's map as an exhibit, in case the decision would be appealed in court. Erickson also said a stand-by propane tank presented the danger of explosion and are not allowed in the city limits for other uses. He suggested the tower go on city property, maybe out by the sewage lagoons, so the city could get some income from up and ease the tax burden.

Bud Kleewein, who owns property directly across the street, said he wasn't properly notified and didn't want the tower near his property, but does own land where it could be built where it wouldn't hurt anything.

Don Wilson, who lives directly behind it, asked the council if they would want a tower put in thier backyard. No one answered. "I don't either," he said.

Although federal regulations say that towers cannot be rejected because of health concerns from emissions, Judy Nichelson raised the objection anyway. She said she only uses her cell phone 10 minutes a month to avoid exposure to microwaves.

"I wouldn't have a choice if the tower is there," she said. "I would be near the microwaves all the time. Nicholsen also feared the trees around her 100 year old house would take a beating. "We are an oasis in a field of warehouses and businesses," she said.

Pam Yeutter said the tower would be a hazard for people leaving the bar and suggested the company be required to put white rock down to keep the area stable. She said the parking lot is not maintained and the area floods in a heavy rain and coud destablize the tower.

Rick Bailey, representing Vaiero, showed a picture of a monopole tower like the one proposed on East Fifth, in the 5 points area of Grand Island, near a church and school. He said the tower will be built to withstand an F3 tornado and 95 mile per hour winds. The propane tank would provide power for the tower in an emergency, so people could dial 911 if need be.

Councilman Tim Barrett said if the tank were to explode it would take out the tower and several buildings nearby. Zoning administrator Judy Clark said the tank is permitted by city ordinance in business districts. She said the 1000 gallon tank would be buried. Bailey said the microwave emissions would be very low, lower than the standard set by the Federal Communications Commission.

Bailey also said the tower would add capacity, enabling many 4G (4th generation) devices to operate at the same time. Currently Vaiero provides 3G in a slower speed. Coverage is not good inside buildings, especially basements, he said. During the discussion, he said co-locating on a Verizon tower in the area wouldn't work well because the companies use different systems. Bailey also said he can find no evidence that cell phone towers lower property values.

Bailey entered four exhibits into the evidence that Stack was collecting. Adam Perry of Vaiero said the tower would allow other Vaiero towers to expand their coverage.

At Carman's urging, Clark checked the record to see if Kleewein received proper notice, and found that he did. 

"I guess I'll have to check with the boss (his wife)," Kleewein said, to chuckles through the room.

Bailey also showed a map of US Cellular, Verizon and Vaiero towers in North Platte. He said Verizon has established towers toward the middle of town and is now building on the outskirts, with little opposition. Vaiero has towers on the outskirts and is trying to move into town, but keeps getting rebuffed.

Rivera passed out photos of Erickson's property on the east, where old vehicles are parked near a rundown shed. He said it didn't look to him that Erickson was concerned about property values.

"If you weren't so cheap, I'd have sold it to you," Ericson said.

When it came time to vote, Lee moved to approve the tower. He said he wouldn't mind if a tower were in his backyard. He would be happy that he had coverage. And he said the city needs to give Vaiero opportunities to compete with other companies. 

"This is a business district," he said. "They've met the requirements."

Barrett, a former building inspector, said he was concerned about the propane tank, which used to be forbidden within the city limits. Clark answered that propane tanks were permitted in industrial devleopment along Newberry, and are now allowed in business districts.

Barrett said he didn't consider the tower was in harmony with the character of the district.

Carman said he wouldn't want a tower in his backyard.

"There are enough residences in the area that it is not in keep with the characteristics there," he said. 

When the council considers a tower in a residential neighborhood, "tons of people come to speak, and we need to pay attention to them," Carman said.  

Lee's motion to approve stalled on a 3-3 vote, with Barrett, Carman and Brook Baker voting no, and Larry Campbell, Lee and Glenn Petersen voting yes.

Then, Baker moved to deny the permit because it was out of character with the area and the motion passed 4-2. Barrett, Campbell, Baker and Larry Campbell voted yes.

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 4/2/2014
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