Communications tower moved after public outcry

A 200-foot tower casts a shadow over Jim Vogel’s Clark Township home, and flashing lights shine through his back windows.

Vogel worries about another tower being installed just across the road, and what kind of view he’ll have when cellphone towers are on both sides of his house.

When a company wanted to build another tower on North Harvey Road, east of Greenwood, Vogel and five neighbors spoke up.

The residents raised concerns about property values, location and the tower being an eyesore. The company is now proposing building the tower about ¾-mile away, but a county board still needs to approve the new location.

Crown Castle South, the company that wanted to construct a 154-foot-communications tower behind two silos at 211 N. Harvey Road, now has to reconfigure plans after county officials and neighbors spoke out against the location of the tower. Planners with the Johnson County Planning Department did not support Crown Castle South’s choice of location for the tower since it was not the least-intrusive option for residents, but did see the necessity of constructing a new communications pole.

Three factors go into choosing where and when a tower should be installed:

the company has to prove a service area gap

the company needs to exhaust all alternative means, which could include adding an antenna to an existing tower

the new structure has to be constructed in the least intrusive spot possible.

Johnson County has about 60 communications towers, which are used for everything from cellphone reception to radio and television satellites and transmitters.

Five years ago, Johnson County was sued by AT&T for denying the company’s location request for a new tower. The lawsuit was eventually dropped after AT&T found a larger piece of land to erect the communications tower. The county also revised its rules to require fences to be built at the base of the tower, and companies need to prove that the cell tower is needed.

Although one cell tower is already in the backyards of residents who live on Harvey Road and Rocklane Road, other towers are in more densely-populated areas in Greenwood and Franklin.

The four existing Verizon towers in unincorporated Johnson County are overworked, meaning customers see slower download speeds and more dropped calls, Johnson County senior planner Desiree Calderella said.

The four structures are located near State Road 37 and Interstate 65. By placing the new tower in a spot away from the two major highways, it should provide more consistent cellphone service, Calderella said.

But county employees said they did not think the 211 N. Harvey Road location was the least-intrusive spot that Crown Castle South could have picked. The tower could serve the same amount of customers, but be in fewer backyards, if it was moved to South Harvey Road. The tower could also be expanded to 194 feet tall, which would save the company from having to add on to the tower at a later date.

At the original location on North Harvey Road, the tower would have been constructed behind two silos on a farm. The tower would be twice as tall as the two silos. Even though the company agreed to plant evergreen trees around the tower to conceal it from eye-level, neighbors weren’t convinced that the tower would be hidden.

“It’s going to be an eyesore to me, personally, because I walk back there every single day,” said Tina Moore, who lives directly south of the original proposed location and has a backyard garden that would be within 500 feet of the tower.

“Every single day, when I walk back there, I’m going to be seeing it,” she said.

Although residents complained about seeing the tower in their backyard, Crown Castle South attorney Timothy Ochs said the tower would not be an ongoing nuisance. As long as the tower is under 200 feet, the structure doesn’t need to be lit up at night, so neighbors won’t see bright lights. No additional traffic would come to North Harvey Road as a result of the tower’s location, except for occasional maintenance crews every three to six months, Ochs said.

Of the 10 homes within a quarter-mile of the original proposed location, four residents attended the board of zoning appeals meeting which would have approved or denied the construction of the tower. All four residents said the tower was not in a good location, and would negatively impact their property values and environment. Another two residents, including Vogel, submitted letters to the board, also disagreeing with the location.

“Right now, the only view I’ve got is outside my front yard. So I really don’t want to see a pole out there,” Vogel said.

“I’ve already got a tower in my back yard, so I don’t need one across the street from me.”

A public hearing is planned for April 28 to hear whether the 194-foot tower will be approved in the new location, now south of Rocklane Road. Approval is needed from the Johnson County Board of Zoning Appeals in order to construct the cell tower and a gravel driveway that leads to the structure. Once the board of zoning appeals approves the project, Crown Castle South can start construction.

Verizon Wireless is the only company currently scheduled to use the tower, but more cellphone companies could use the same tower in the future, Calderella said.