After a lengthy hearing, the Cedar Rapids Planning Commission on Thursday turned down a request by the Czech National Cemetery for a conditional use permit to allow a 120-foot-tall cellphone tower amid gravestones in southwest Cedar Rapids.
The vote against the plan was 7-1. The cell tower would have been a first for a cemetery in the city, though officials said that another request has been made to erect a cell tower in Cedar Memorial Cemetery in northeast Cedar Rapids.
The Czech National Cemetery and U.S. Cellular, which had planned to lease a 60- by-60 foot area from the cemetery for a tower site, still can take their case to the Board of Adjustment, which has final say on conditional use permits.
In rejecting the request, some commission members said a cell tower was not appropriate for the serenity of a cemetery. Commission member Mike Tertinger said that the matter would not have been up for discussion if the cemetery was an American Indian burial ground.
Commission member Allan Thoms and Chairman Scott Overland said they did not oppose cell towers in cemeteries, but Overland said a tower needed to be in a more out-of-the-way location than the proposed one. Thoms said cemeteries have utility poles, power lines and even city streets cutting through them and so the day is coming when a cemetery will have a cell tower, he said.
Thoms said the Czech National Cemetery sought out the cellphone tower to provide revenue to help the cemetery maintain the facility in the future. But he said the commission was required to consider the adverse impact of a request to neighboring properties, and one of those, the Eben Israel Cemetery, voiced a strong objection, he said.
Commission members Laura Seaton and Scott Friauf said that the U.S. Cellular representatives had not convinced them that the need for a new tower was immediate or that they fully had investigated nearby sites. Friauf encouraged the company to approach the city again. There is a cell tower in a remote spot in Bever Park, officials said.
Commission member Carletta Kxox-Seymour said she lives in the area to be served by the new tower, and she said she agreed with the U.S. Cellular representatives that service there is poor. She, too, voted against the plan and encouraged U.S. Cellular to keep looking for another site.
The commission received 30 to 40 letters on both sides of the issues. Some residents spoke against the tower plan in front of the commission and one resident spoke in favor of it.