For a PDF of Call Waiting complete with a map and list of all East County cell phone towers, click here.
Of the county’s 62 cell tower and pole sites, 16 are located in the East County.
Cell phone providers, particularly T-Mobile, which has contracted with Vertex Development for the construction of new towers in the area, are working to provide better local coverage.
Currently, three applications for cell towers are under review by Manatee County and slated for a vote by county officials.
The first, which would be disguised as a cross on Christian Retreat’s campus, was recommended for approval by the Manatee County Planning Commission Oct. 8. The Manatee County commission is scheduled to vote on the item Nov. 5.
The second, proposed for a spot near the River Club clubhouse is scheduled for the planning commission Nov. 12 and the county commission Dec. 3.
Finally, the tower proposed in Palm-Aire is under review, said county Mitigation Planner Sharon Tarman. Because of the property’s zoning district, it requires a special permit and will be heard by a county hearing officer.
Why a tower?
The demand for wireless services has skyrocketed even in the last five years. Data from the CTIA — The Wireless Association, an international group representing the wireless communications industry, wireless subscribers jumped from 194.4 million in June 2005 to 276.6 million in June 1009.
To that point, Ann Brooks, spokesperson for T-Mobile’s southern region, said providers are working to satisfy demand.
“We try to collocate on other facilities whenever we can,” Brooks said. “It’s easier, faster and more affordable.”
But many times, collocation or placing antennas on tall buildings is not possible, making the construction of a tower the only viable option.
“We do not build facilities only for the sake of building facilities,” Brooks said. “Sites really are determined by demand, traffic on the network. Is there a need? Yes.”
Andrea Williams, vice president of law and assistant general council for CTIA — The Wireless Association, said cellular providers construct towers in residential neighborhoods as a method of last resort.
“When they come in to find a site, they have done very extensive work in terms of where’s the best place technically where they can find the best coverage,” Williams said. “Ten years ago, there may not have been a neighborhood there. They would not have needed coverage (then). And people want service there now.”
Real estate effects
One of the first rallying cries against cell towers in neighborhoods is the effect they will have on property values.
But do they actually depreciate the value of homes?
Realtor Carol White can’t say whether a cell tower — or any tower — near a home actually affects its sale price, but she does know she’s lost prospective buyers because of them.
One woman she represented traveled from up north to look at a certain home and was appalled when she drove by and saw a tower nearby.
“She looked and saw a tower and wouldn’t even get out of the car,” White said. “That was the end of that.”
It hasn’t been the only instance.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a cell phone tower or an electrical tower,” White said. “People have an aversion to towers. It just cuts down on your possible number of buyers.”
But residential and commercial property appraiser David Taulbee, of Tampa-based Lee Pallardy Inc., said 10 years of researching the topic in central Florida, often for cellular service providers, has proved to him that cell towers have no effect on home values nor on how long a home spends on the market.
In studying home prices in rural, metropolitan, suburban and golf course communities, the evidence has been the same.
“The evidence is clear and concise: Cellular tower installations have no impact,” said Taulbee, who has conducted such studies in Manatee and Sarasota counties as well as in Orange, Hillsborough, Marian and Pinellas counties. “I can find no evidence to suggest and support that they have negative or positive impacts on surrounding residential property values. People that are nearby or could be nearby an installation, their concern it’s an emotional issue. People don’t like change. They are fearful of the change and the impacts it might have.”
Taulbee also said in talking with property appraisers in those areas, he has never found an appraiser who has reduced a property assessment because of proximity to a tower.
Over the years, cell phone providers have become creative in disguising towers so they have less of a visual impact on communities.
Throughout the United States, towers have been made to look like grain silos, cacti, water towers and even lighthouses. In Florida, the most realistic and most common disguises for towers are as pine tress, palm trees and flagpoles with or without flags.
In the flagpole structure, which is proposed for Palm-Aire and River Club, all the antennas are hidden inside the tower itself. In some instances, such as at Church of the Trinity on Lockwood Ridge Road, towers also are disguised in the shape of a cross, much like the one proposed for Christian Retreat’s campus.
Trinity’s Interim Pastor, the Rev. Lisa Heilig, said when she first arrived at the church just more than a year ago, she did not realize the cross was a cell tower, although now it is apparent from a close-up view.
She also said the tower has not been an issue for church members but rather it has become special to them, particularly because of a couple of eagles that rest there.
“That’s a really special thing to our congregation,” she said. “It’s worked really, really well for all parties involved.”
Land development code
Chapter 7, Section 704.59 of Manatee County’s land development code deals with telecommunications facilities. Sharon Tarman, the county’s hazard mitigation planner, said this section is the one she uses to review cell tower applications.
“I have to step back and look at it impartially,” Tarman said. “Does it meet the code? These providers have to show us and demonstrate that they need this (tower) in this area, and they’ve done all the research.”
Chapter 7, Section 704.59.2 states: “No new telecommunication tower shall be permitted unless the applicant submits a notarized affidavit that demonstrates compelling reasons (including substantial cost difference) why existing telecommunication towers or alternative support structures within one mile of the proposed tower can not accommodate the applicant’s proposed antenna. Applicant may substitute their search ring for the one mile radius by providing a notarized statement or certification by a Radio Frequency Engineer which identifies the location and dimensions of the search ring, as well as a propagation map which shows all surrounding adjacent cell sites proposed or operated by the applicant.”
The code also specifies requirements for a 10-foot-wide landscape buffer around tower sites. Section 704.59.3.6 states: “All Telecommunication Facilities shall be located, designed, and screened, to the greatest extent possible, using materials, colors, textures, screening, and landscaping that will blend the facilities with the existing natural or built surroundings, as well as any existing supporting structures, to reduce visual impacts. … Each application shall demonstrate that, to the greatest practical extent, the proposed facility is designed to limit the visual impact on surrounding land uses and public views.”
At the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners meeting Sept. 22, the board asked for an amendment to the county’s Land Development Code to delineate preference for placing telecommunication facilities away from residential areas.
The Manatee County Attorney’s Office last week drafted a new ordinance to address their concerns. That document is still under review.
However, the most updated version, which still has many similarities to existing county code requirements, is intended to provide development standards relating to specific types of “personal wireless service facilities” and establishing what requirements are necessary for protecting and enhancing the community’s environmental, economic and aesthetic quality.
The ordinance encourages the use of alternative support structures, the collocation of new antennas on existing telecommunication towers and existing structures, camouflaged towers, monopoles and the construction of towers so they accommodate at least three providers.
It also states the county will expedite the review process for those applications choosing the least intrusive alternative of deploying the personal wireless service facilities.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].