An application to build a 150-foot cellular tower at Longboat Island Chapel has been on hold since November 2011. But that could change after a vote scheduled for Sunday.
Longboat Island Chapel members will vote after Sunday’s worship service on whether to approve an extension of the current three-year lease for a tower planned for the church’s property.
Jim Eatrides, owner of Alpha Omega Communications LLC and Kevin Barile, a project partner with Ridan Industries LLC, strategically put their application to place a 150-foot cellular tower at the property on hold in November 2011. The decision was made to allow the town to make telecommunications changes to its Comprehensive Plan and ordinance.
But, if church members vote to continue the lease with Eatrides and Barile, the two are prepared to submit a revised application to Town Hall.
When asked when he would submit an active application if membership approves the extension, Eatrides said:
“We would proceed in a rational and timely manner. We’ve been waiting for the town for quite some time and, quite frankly, we’re done waiting.”
Eatrides and a Verizon Wireless representative told Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force members and chapel members last week a tower is still the only viable option for solving a reception gap on the north end.
“Neither a brand-new cellular smartphone running on a 4G network, nor an expanded 4G coverage from any network, nor a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) will fix the problem for a cell phone user, either,” said Tom Giacomo, radio frequency engineering manager for Verizon Wireless, at a Wednesday, April 3 Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force meeting at Spanish Main Yacht Club.
Eatrides and Giacomo said the chapel site at 6200 Gulf of Mexico Drive is the only viable option.
Eatrides and Barile are under contract to erect a tower in Bradenton Beach no later than the first quarter of 2014 and are submitting a proposal to build a tower in the city of Anna Maria.
“If DAS made sense, somebody would have done it,” Eatrides said, noting his agreement with the chapel requires a bond that would pay for the tower’s removal if a viable alternative is discovered.
Eatrides noted DAS antennas are 38 feet tall and the town’s utility poles, which Florida Power & Light Co. owns, don’t support them.
On Aug. 24, 2012, Ridan Industries and Eatrides brought in representatives from Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile to discuss reception problems with Town Manager Dave Bullock.
“We all said we won’t support a DAS system due to technical, economic and aesthetic considerations,” Giacomo said. “We all support a stealth tower at the chapel site. If there is no stealth tower, no significant improvement or investment will be made for cellular improvements on the north end.”
Giacomo said DAS systems only cover capacity issues, such as large crowds at a sporting event, such as the Super Bowl, or a lot of people living in one concentrated area.
Chapel board member John Holtzerman said if the members vote in favor of renegotiating the terms of the lease, the board wouldn’t negotiate the same agreement.
“The terms would specify where a tower could be and couldn’t be,” Holtzerman said. “It would be an evolved agreement.”
The chapel’s board voted to approve the current lease three years ago; but Holtzerman said the bylaws have since been changed; the church’s entire membership has to approve any major changes.
Chapel board member Judy Achre said the church has been working with Eatrides and Barile for almost six years.
“I’m very supportive of the project,” Achre said.
Not every chapel member is supportive of the project, though, and some Key residents who live near the proposed tower site are against it and worry about its effect on their property values.
“My personal view is I don’t think a tower of 150 feet and the equipment that goes with it is appropriate for an upscale community like Longboat Key,” said chapel member John Summers. “Following the advice of professionals looking to increase profitability with a tower isn’t something residents or the chapel membership should even consider.”
Revitalization Task Force Chairman George Spoll, meanwhile, said the task force believes “it’s essential we join the 21st century and be able to communicate all over the island.” The task force supports a tower at the chapel site.
“We are an elderly community and people should be able to call someone when they need to,” Spoll said.