• Hickenbottom breaks tie, motion passes 4-3
It’s officially a done deal - a new radio station is coming to Broken Bow.
The request for a conditional use permit to build a new radio tower north of Broken Bow was brought before the Custer County Planning & Zoning Commission twice, and the County Board of Supervisors twice, and each time the vote was close. Tuesday’s final vote by the county commissioners was no exception.
Mark Jensen, owner of MJ Leasing LLC of York, first brought his request to the zoning board several weeks ago, at which time the board split 4-4 on granting the permit. Jensen then took his request to the county supervisors. There he was also turned down, and told, it was due to the plan not meeting the setback requirements.
So Jensen reconfigured the plan and set the tower back further, filled out a new application, and came back to the zoning board last week. By the end of the two-hour discussion, the board voted 6-2 to deny the request for the permit. The zoning board then recommended to the county board of supervisors that they not grant the conditional use permit.
Due to the number of people in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting, the hearing was moved from the supervisors room to the District Courtroom. As the hearing opened, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Larry Hickenbottom asked for a show of hands of those opposed to the new radio station tower going up, then from those who support it. The number on each side was nearly dead even. Hickenbottom then opened the floor for public comments, limiting each speaker to three minutes.
First to address the board was Dahl Jungren. “I’m not against or for it - I’m against the location. I’m here in the interest of aviation,” said Jungren. He told the board that he believes the tower would interfere not only with the Broken Bow airport with with several surrounding airports as well.
Joyce Allen, a resident of California who owns property near the site of the proposed tower, gave a lengthy argument against the request at last weeks zoning meeting, and reiterated many of her comments at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I feel it would be a nuisance, an eyesore, and ruin my way of life,” said Allen.
Dave Birnie, who spent several years serving on the zoning board, reminded the county commissioners - as he did the zoning board - that the guidelines specifically state that the board will work to protect the rights and way of life of the ag sector.
“I’ve got a great staff and we have been the local station here since 1949. I don’t expect that to change, and am not afraid of the competition,” Birnie explained. He stated it was incumbent upon the board to review the policies that the zoning board had spent hours drafting, and base their decision on meeting those guidelines.
Doug Staab addressed the board on behalf of the Broken Bow Airport Authority. “This would affect the minimums at our airport - and we don’t want that,” said Staab.
Cecil Burt, mayor of Broken Bow, agreed that the new tower would affect the airport “which is very essential to this town.” “I think it would be better for Broken Bow if this tower doesn’t go up,” Burt stated.
Larry Cotnoir has been in radio for 34 years, and shared with the board some of his past experiences with competing stations in a small area. He says it has been his experience that the outcome is generally not favorable.
Fourth generation rancher Pete Olson says he has three daughters, and is concerned about the safety issues the radio tower might pose for his family.
Don Denesia was the first to speak in support of the radio tower. “I’m in favor of economic development and I sure don’t see how anybody could get hurt by it,” he said.
Ethelyn Thompson, who lives in close proximity to where the tower will be built, said, “Forty years ago we didn’t have McDonald’s, Runza, Pizza Hut or Taco Johns or several chiropractor and physical therapy offices in town. But the town is growing and now we have lots of choices. We still have a large area that cannot receive the Broken Bow radio signal, and lots of people who do business here who cannot get the local station. Even where I am there are times during storms I cannot get the local station. I hope the board will vote yes.”
R.J. Thomas, like Dave Birnie, served on the county’s zoning board for a number of years and helped write the guidelines being referred to concerning the ag community.
“I was with zoning when it was created, and it was never created to determine what businesses should come here,” said Thomas. “The only determining factor of this board should be is it legal - and this is. If we could determine what businesses to allow I would have fought Craig’s (Safranek) hotel! But we can’t - that’s not what we’re here for.”
Jim Scott agreed with Thomas, saying, “What R.J. is saying is correct, and that’s what you’re making your decision on today.”
Stuart Fox also chimed in, adding, “I think it would be a very dangerous precedent if we don’t approve this project today.” Fox also offered his support for the project at last week’s zoning meeting. “We have towers all over this county. I think if he meets the rules and regulations we should proceed with this,” said Fox.
Following public comments, Jensen was given an opportunity to respond. He said he contacted the local law office of Sennett, Duncan & Borders just to get clarification on the county’s zoning regulations. He presented that information to the board, and had no other comments.
“We listened to your complaints, but I’m not sure those complaints come under the zoning compliance regulations,” said Hickenbottom.
Commissioner Richard Hodson had a number of questions for Jensen, including the coverage area he plans to reach with the new tower. Jensen explained that this will be the only 100,000 watt radio station in this area, and would reach into areas not currently being served. Hodson asked a number of other questions, all regarding specifics of the tower or the station.
Commissioner Mark Haynes also commented, adding, “I do not feel it is the job of the board to regulate commerce. It is our job to determine if guidelines and regulations are met. And in this case they have been.”
There being no other comments from the board, the matter was taken to a vote on a motion to deny the request for a conditional use permit. That motion failed 3-4. The motion was then made and seconded to approve the request. That motion passed, with Chairman Hickenbottom casting the tie-breaking vote. Voting no to the motion to approve the conditional use permit were Richard Hodson, Don McCullough and Don Olson.
Following the meeting the three commissioners who voted no were asked to share the reason for that vote.
“I voted no because half or better of the people affected by this are from my district, and I was elected to represent my district,” said Don McCullough.
Richard Hodson, who serves the district in which the radio tower will be located, said, “It was the recommendation of the planning commission to deny the request for the permit, and I think we need to respect their recommendation. They did all the research and fact-finding, and going against their recommendation is kind of like kicking them in the gut.”
Don Olson echoed Hodson's statement, saying he felt it was his duty as county commissioner to uphold the recommendation of the zoning board. "They spent quite a bit of time on this and that is what they recommended," Olson explained.
Jensen says now that he finally has approval to proceed he is meeting with engineers to finalize plans. As of yet there is no definite timeline for the new station, though Jensen says he hopes to be on the air in 2014. He is also still researching what format would be best suited to the area.
“Obviously I’m very happy with the decision and I also appreciate each of those members who serve on these boards,” said Jensen.