Jim Eatrides refuses to give up.
The Longboat Key resident and owner of Longboat Key-based Alpha-Omega Communications is positive that a cell tower placed on the north end of the Key will fix what he perceives as horrendous cellular service for residents and tourists.
Eatrides is so sure of it that he, along with Tampa-based Ridan Industries II President Kevin Barile, signed a lease with Longboat Island Chapel to place a 150-foot cellular tower on the church’s 4.5-acre property at 6200 Gulf of Mexico Drive.
The unipole stealth tower, if approved by the Town Commission this year, will sit behind the church.
The 150-foot tower, Eatrides said, allows for six cellular carriers to offer their service on the structure.
Eatrides said the lease agreement is the culmination of more than three years of discussions with the chapel’s board of directors and the congregation.
But now comes the hard part.
Eatrides and Barile must deal with naysayers — north-enders who will more than likely fill Town Hall chambers during Planning and Zoning Board and Town Commission hearings to dispute the tower.
Some residents who live near Longboat Island Chapel, including former Mayor Jeremy Whatmough and Gus Sclafani, have bemoaned a tower going on the chapel’s site.
Former Commissioner Gene Jaleski, Sclafani and Whatmough are three of 665 Longboaters who signed a petition last summer opposing cell towers and urging the installation of a distributed antenna system (DAS), which uses small antennas on top of utility poles to boost reception.
But Eatrides and church officials say DAS is not right for the island.
But it’s not the first time Eatrides has had to make his case before the commission and planning board.
Eatrides has tried for two years to get the town to change a telecommunications ordinance that is so ironclad, it basically prevents cellular companies from upgrading their services on the Key.
But the commission decided to leave the ordinance alone in 2009, in part because the residents who spoke at Town Hall wanted it that way.
But Eatrides is sure that the majority of the town’s residents want better cellular service. And, this time around, he says he will get them involved and make sure their voices are heard when the tower application comes to Town Hall public hearings.
“We have approximately 400 tower support forms signed already without actively soliciting,” Eatrides said. “I learned my lesson. I will make sure these people’s voices are heard and they get involved and come to the meetings.”
As part of the outreach program, Eatrides is planning on holding a community meeting at the chapel before the hearings are scheduled.
Eatrides hopes that the Planning and Zoning Board will review the tower application in February and that it will then go before the Town Commission in March and April for first and second readings and public hearings.
Eatrides says that a tower is a must for the north end of the Key.
“We are trying to make sure we have the services we need in the 21st century in a reasonable, economic manner, with the least amount of aesthetic impact,” Eatrides said.
Occupation: Founder of Alpha-Omega Communications
Hobbies: Skiing, boating, diving and fishing
Passion: Biotechnology and wireless communications technology
Interesting fact: Eatrides can run eight-minute miles, a feat he accomplished recently by working out consistently for five days a week.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]