PALM-AIRE — Less than a week after a Manatee County planner deemed an application to place a cell tower in the Palm-Aire community incomplete, the application is moving forward.
A tentative Dec. 15 date has been set for the item to be heard by a county hearing officer.
Hazard and mitigation planner Sharon Tarman on Sept. 15 said an application by Vertex Development to construct a 150-foot cell tower at 5625 Whitfield Ave. did not address all the county’s concerns about the project and needed more information to be considered complete.
But the application now is being advanced at the applicant’s request and after the threat of potential legal action.
Whether the application will be approved now will be left in the hands of a hearing officer, and Vertex will have to argue its case for approval without the support of staff, Manatee County Planning Department Director John Osborne said.
Even still, residents of Palm-Aire are balking. Last week, county staff “incorrectly” told them the application’s status had been changed to complete, spurring an outpour of public opposition and requests that the county follow new provisions set in its land development code.
The code requires the applicant to submit in writing its request to move forward if the application is deemed incomplete by staff. In this case, Vertex only made the request verbally. County officials have said they will request Vertex’s written request if it does not provide it.
“From our conversation with John Osborne, it does appear the county is in fact going to request or require Vertex to submit this,” said Deborah Chapman, founder of Palm-Aire Homeowners Against the Tower. “We are happy to see that the planning department is following the land development code.
“It’s the sense that the code is there for a reason and, in a lot of ways, to protect citizens rights,” she said. “It’s important the county — or the planning department — doesn’t just find ways to wiggle around it or interpret it at will."
Residents believe following the code will play a critical role in the long-term defensibility of the case should the county deny the application and Vertex sue as it did in River Club’s case.
Residents also are asking for county commissioners to conduct an audit of the overall application review process, calling on at-large Commissioner Carol Whitmore to lead the charge.
“We believe there have been a lot of problems and flaws throughout the last 12 months we’ve been (dealing with this application) that could have been avoided,” Chapman said.
Chapman said she has not yet heard whether an audit will be conducted.
County planners and legal staff were scheduled to meet Wednesday — after The East County Observer went to press — to fully review the application and the accuracy of its review.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
A third-party consultant hired by the county to review cell tower applications against the county’s new code provisions said it did not believe Vertex’s application was complete. Conditions it listed as “not met” include the accuracy and completeness of submission, the applicability of analysis techniques and methodologies and the validity of conclusions met, among other issues.