Town staff and its planning consultants have heard the Longboat Key Town Commission loud and clear.
The commission stated on the record in November that it doesn’t want a tower built on the Key. So town staff’s latest draft of a controversial telecommunications ordinance doesn’t even include a category for cellular towers. All references to a tower in the text have been struck through or deleted.
The ordinance also includes stringent height restrictions for other cellular technologies, noting that alternatives such as Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) and small cell technologies must adhere to the height restrictions for zoning districts and that in no instance can the technologies be higher than 50 feet from the ground.
Antennae placed on buildings can’t be higher than 30 feet above the highest point on the structure.
“The intent of the new ordinance is to focus on alternative technologies like small cells,” said Planning, Zoning and Building Director Alaina Ray.
The ordinance includes pictures of various technologies, explaining that permitted wireless facilities are allowed in all zoning districts except for preserve and single-family zoning districts.
Small cells sit on a pole or a building and act as a smaller, denser service coverage area that can expand outward by a few miles. The boxes are smaller than DAS systems, which typically sit on buildings or utility poles.
The section that included the cellular tower requirements was deleted in its entirety and replaced with a paragraph that explains how the town needs to balance its communication needs with the needs of the community.
Part of the pargraph states:
“The town recognizes that personal wireless facilities play an important and complex role in the community. The intent of this section is to ensure that the placement, construction or modification of personal wireless service facilities is consistent with the town’s land use policies and balances the community’s needs. This section strives to establish a fair and efficient application process, mitigate impacts of personal wireless service facilities and protect the health, safety and welfare of the residents and visitors of the town.”
A hierarchy of preferences for telecommunication improvements also deletes a tower as a last resort, replacing it with a freestanding facility preference, “which must mimic a structure or natural feature that could reasonably be found and/or blend with the surrounding area, such as a light pole or tree.”
Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale and other attorneys are currently reviewing the draft ordinance to determine if it’s legally defensible before it is discussed in a public meeting.
“We have asked for case law that shows why an ordinance that doesn’t include a cell tower as an option might not be legal,” Ray said. “It’s important the ordinance we move forward with is legally defensible.”
Mayor Jim Brown suggested in an email to Ray and Town Manager Dave Bullock that the draft ordinance has had enough vetting with the planning board and should come before the commission.
But in an April 28 email to Brown, Mooney-Portale recommends the draft ordinance go back to the planning board for another review.
Noting that the draft ordinance “is a whole new draft ordinance,” Mooney-Portale said Florida statutes require “a local planning agency” to review such ordinances.
“In the event the ordinance is subject to a future legal challenge, giving PZB an opportunity to review the newly drafted zoning ordinance avoids potential technical arguments that could be raised as to whether or not the local planning agency properly considered this ordinance,” wrote Mooney-Portale in her email.
The draft ordinance is a direct result of the commission’s direction at a Nov. 13 regular workshop.
Bullock said he doesn’t expect any major changes to the ordinance before it’s reviewed by the planning board next month.
What is small cell technology?
Small cells are low-powered radio access nodes that can sit on a pole or a building to expand cellular coverage outward by a few miles in areas that have poor cellular reception.
Small cells provide improved cellular coverage for homes and businesses.
Types of small cells include femtocells, picocells, metrocells and microcells – broadly increasing in size from femtocells (the smallest) to microcells (the largest).
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected]