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Cell Tower Plan in Cemetery Beginning to Stir Up Opposition

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The popularity of cell phones and portable electronic devices wouldn't be possible without the cell towers that provide the wireless signal. But keeping the signal strong often involves wireless companies adding new towers. And that's where the conflict can start.

One example of a tower fight is now shaping up in the unlikeliest of places. A request for a conditional use permit that goes before the Cedar Rapids Planning Commission Thursday calls for a 120-foot-tall cell tower in a cemetery.

The board operating the Czech National Cemetery, 2200 C St. S.W., is seeking permission to allow a tower for U.S. Cellular on cemetery ground. City staffers say it's the first time they can remember a conditional use request for a cell tower in a cemetery.

Teri Petrzalek, who has family buried at the cemetery, only learned about the Planning Commission meeting a few days ago after a cemetery neighbor got a letter about the proposed zoning change. Petrzalek plans to attend the meeting to let the commission know not everyone is ok with the idea.

"I can understand they're (cemetery board) looking for ways to generate income. But this is not an appropriate way to do it. It's going to be intrusive, look terrible and it's an affront to the people buried there," Petrzalek said.

Frank Edmunds, president of the Czech National Cemetery board, said U.S. Cellular approached the board about the idea almost two years ago. The 120-foot-tall tower would go on a corner of the property not needed for future expansion and not currently used for any burials. Edmunds said, until recently, a dirt pile used by landscapers was located at that site. The cemetery board and U.S. Cellular eventually agreed to a $900 monthly payment, on a ten year lease, for the use of a small corner of the cemetery property. Edmunds said the non-profit board hasn't decided on a definite use for the money. But it would definitely help the group afford cemetery upkeep well into the future.

"It sounded pretty good at first. Whether or not we have any qualms about doing it, you'd have to ask the rest of the board," Edmunds said.

Edmunds said the board didn't hear about possible opposition until the last few days when letters about the cell tower went out to immediate neighbors. Matt Linn, also a cemetery board member, said he was the only one voting "no" when the original decision was made. And he still doesn't think it's a good idea.

"I don't think there's enough money to compensate for the feelings of families that are here," Linn said.

U.S. Cellular has agreed to a plan to hide an equipment building at ground level with a screen. But opponent Petrzalek said there is nothing that will hide a structure towering 120 feet over the tombstones.

The Cedar Rapids Planning Commission meeting on the conditional use permit is set for 3:00 p.m. at city hall. If approved, the request would still have to get the approval of the city's board of adjustment.

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