Neighbors, Board of Adjustment Want Different Site for Silver City Tower

The Mills County Zoning Board of Adjustment has denied a conditional use permit application for the construction of a 254-foot, self-support communications tower near Silver City.

The board voted 5-0 to deny the application from Papillion, Neb.-based Great Plains Land Services (an agent to Cloud One Services, LLC) following a lengthy discussion during a virtual meeting Tuesday, Nov. 17.

The proposed tower is part of FirstNet, a nationwide public safety broadband network created to provide first responders with enhanced communication tools and technology. FirstNet was established by Congress in 2012 to enhance public safety and address recommendations of the National Commission on Terrorists Attacks (9/11 Commission). The 9/11 Commission found that first responders were unable to communicate effectively over existing cell phone towers during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Sandi Winton said she and fellow members of the board of adjustment fully support construction of a tower to improve communications technology and data coverage for local first responders and the Silver City community, but the proposed location on private property near the Silver City Cemetery and the intersection of 285th and 287th Streets, is too close to two other private residences – one directly to the north and one slightly to the southeast across 287th Street.

“That was the main concern of all of the board members,” Winton said.  “It was really close to one house and pretty close to another house and it was close to the cemetery.

“I totally support the tower. I told her, make sure you come back next month with another proposal because we’re not against the tower. We need to have that tower. Silver City needs a tower and our first responders need a tower.”

Great Plains Land Services (Cloud 1 Services) is a regional agent for AT&T, the communications provider that was selected to be the nationwide provider for the FirstNet network. The proposed site of the tower is near a set of grain storage bins on property owned by William Hunt.

Before voting on the application, the board of adjustment was presented multiple letters of opposition to the location from Silver City area residents and the Council Bluffs-based Jennings Law Firm representing parties who object to the tower’s construction at the proposed site.

Nick Speck, who moved into the home directly north of the proposed site for the tower last February, said the tower would be “mere yards” from his house. Not only would the tower be an eyesore and diminish the value of his property and the subdivided lots on his acreage, but also a safety hazard, Speck said.

“There is nowhere on the proposed lot that this tower is not going to hit a roadway if it falls over,” he said. “On half the lot, it will land on my property and possibly my home if it falls over.

“My neighbor and I will have a red blinking light coming through our bedroom window every night. I have a 1-year-old daughter, I don’t want her growing up in the shadow of this tower.”

Speck also noted that the tower would be near the “picturesque Silver City Cemetery.”

Jeff Goos, who lives southeast of the Hunt property, presented a four-page letter to the board detailing his opposition. He questioned the timing of the application coming before the board and the lack of adequate notice to nearby property owners.

“I can’t believe there are applicants out there who would take advantage of trying to ramrod this project through when our guard is down in the middle of a pandemic,” Goos wrote. “Why did we wait until the worst part of the pandemic to notify surrounding property owners of this hearing? Seven days notice of the meeting is unconscionable.”

In an interview with The Opinion-Tribune, Goos said he understands and appreciates the need to improve communication technology in the Silver City area, but believes the tower needs to be placed in a location that won’t be a detriment to surrounding property owners. He mentioned the same public safety concerns noted by Speck and the proximity to the Silver City Cemetery (which he believes has historic value to the community).

In his letter to the board, Goos also mentioned the aesthetic impact the tower would have on Silver City.

“It’s important to note that it is not just our family that will suffer if this project is approved,” Goos wrote. “The gateway to Silver City from the south is in danger of being morphed from the gorgeous to grotesque. Instead of seeing the rolling hills behind the Silver Creek Valley, passing motorists will instead be overwhelmed by a giant industrial tower staring down at them.”

Similar concerns about public safety, the cemetery and the visual impact of the tower were shared in letters from Linda Goos, who lives in the area, and Jim Goos, who resides approximately one-quarter mile south of the proposed site.
“I cannot imagine that this chosen location is the best spot in Ingraham Township for a cell tower,” Jim Goos stated. “It affects the tranquil, visually serene landscape of our neighborhood.

“There is also a true safety hazard connected to falling objects and the placement of this tower in the event of a derecho storm like the one that cut a long swath across Iowa and Illinois this past summer. Even a tornado could result in severe damage to the Speck family home north of the proposed tower site.”

Linda Goos wrote in her letter, “It would be ideal if another site could be considered that would not impact so many people and still get cell set for the community.”

The board also received two letters of support for construction of the tower from Mills County Director of Information Technology Patrick Binns and Mills County Emergency Management Director Larry Hurst.

“In Mills County, we have considerable gaps in mobile data which creates significant challenges for our law enforcement personnel and other first responders,” Binns stated. “In particular, the northeast section of Mills County is significantly underserved by mobile data service.

“The tower that would be built at this location would greatly increase the mobile data capabilities of our first responder community and would bring us one step closer to reliable public safety data coverage throughout all of Mills County.”
Hurst echoed Binns’ thoughts, noting the need for stronger mobile data coverage in rural areas of the country.

“Significant gaps in phone/mobile data coverage exist here in Mills County, which has severely impacted our ability to put in place technologies to better support our responders in providing services to the public they serve,” Hurst said.

“Placement of subject tower at requested site will not only allow for better public safety operations, but will fill a void in the area for reliable mobile data service.”

According to documents submitted to the board, four sites were considered for the tower within a one-mile circumference from a central point just northeast of Silver City.

Michelle Roth, who submitted the conditional use permit application on behalf of Great Plains Land Services, said floodplain issues near Silver City created challenges in selecting a location.

“We typically canvass the area and look for parcels big enough to support a structure and that the property owner has interest in allowing a tower on their property,” Roth wrote. “The parcel was chosen as the primary due to the location fitting into the footprint of the FirstNet/AT&T Network and the other sites in southwest Iowa.

“The terrain is a challenge, along with the floodplain and the willingness of property owners in the area.”
Winton said she assumes Great Plains Land Services has a “Plan B” for the tower.

“I asked if we don’t approve this, what is Plan B? She said, ‘I don’t know. It’s up to AT&T. We may have to go back to the drawing board,’” Winton said.

Winton noted that Hunt also owns agricultural land to the east (across the highway from proposed site) that might be worthy of consideration for the tower.

“I did ask, since the gentleman owned that land across the street (to the east) if they thought about moving it across the street,” Winton said. “They said they thought about that, but it would take away some of their farming. Well, I understand that, but taking away a few acres of farming is not as much of a detriment to somebody’s personal living area as a cell phone tower or communications tower 50 feet back from somebody’s back porch or backyard.”


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