For the first time, there were no mixed signals when the Longboat Key Town Commission discussed a cell tower for Longboat Key.
The commission finally took a stance — at a meeting — on the possibility of a cellular tower being built on the Key.
In short, commissioners don’t want one. And they want staff and the town attorney to help craft an ordinance that says as much without starting a legal nightmare among cellular carriers.
At the commission’s Nov. 13 regular workshop, during which the commission couldn’t vote, all seven commissioners said they prefer never to see a cellular tower on the island. Five out of seven commissioners directed staff to come back to them at a later time with a revised ordinance that states a tower is not allowed on the Key unless there’s no other way to improve telecommunications.
It’s the first time the commission has reached a consensus or had such a discussion in 10 years of debates about telecommunications.
“We are far enough along in the process that the cell tower is no longer a solution,” said Commissioner Pat Zunz.
Commissioners Phill Younger and Jack Duncan agreed, urging other commissioners to make their opinions known through a consensus show of hands.
Mayor Jim Brown called for the consensus.
“Why are we playing around with this for the last 10 years or so?” Brown asked. “I don’t want a tower. I don’t know why we can’t just put language in there saying that.”
Then, Brown, and commissioners Terry Gans, Duncan, Younger and Zunz raised their hands in agreement.
Only Vice Mayor David Brenner and Commissioner Lynn Larson didn’t raise their hands. But they, too, agreed they’d rather see anything other than a tower.
“The only problem I see with this is if we go on record saying, ‘No tower,’ I’m concerned about the legality of saying we are outlawing cell towers,” Larson said.
Gans also expressed concerns.
“I don’t want a cell tower,” he said. “But I want residents and visitors to be able to communicate island-wide.”
Acting Town Attorney David Persson asked for time to review the legality of such a statement in an ordinance.
Town Manager Dave Bullock said the consensus was the direction his staff needs to review the legality of an ordinance that would address telecommunications without a tower. He will utilize the help of a future consultant and report his findings back to the commission.
Staff will draft an ordinance that includes a hierarchy urging applicants to place antennae on existing Key buildings and structures, or using technology such as Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) to improve reception. Commissioners want to eliminate the rest of the hierarchy, which includes camouflage towers.
Persson called the commission’s consensus “a watershed moment for the town.”
“For the first time, there’s a clear direction as to what this town wants and what it wants to do on this issue, so thank you,” he said.
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]