RIVER CLUB — The River Club Homeowner’s Association is celebrating a minor victory as it braces for its final battle against a proposed cell phone tower in the heart of its community.
The Manatee County Planning Commission on Nov. 12 voted 4-2 to recommend denial of a 150-foot flagpole-style telecommunications tower proposed near the front parking lot of the River Club golf course.
“We walked in here just hoping for the best,” River Club Homeowner’s Association President Cecelia Harrison said. “We’re trying to protect the homeowners. We think the right decision was made.”
Although the residents consider the verdict a victory — they know the planning commission’s recommendation for denial is only that — a recommendation.
The Manatee County Board of County Commissioners is slated to hear the item on Dec. 3. By law, the board cannot consider the tower’s impacts on property values or other similar considerations residents have brought up over the last year in their decision to deny or approve the tower. Instead, they must determine whether the site complies with all governmental requirements.
County planning staff and Lauralee Westine, the attorney representing cell tower developer Vertex Development and cellular provider T-Mobile, both say the tower does meet county requirements and other guidelines. Furthermore, Vertex has proven a need to provide coverage in the area — required by law.
But Patricia Petroff, the attorney representing the River Club HOA, argued the site was not compatible with the community and Vertex should be applying to amend River Club’s development of regional impact, which restricts the community’s uses to single family homes and a 33-acre golf course. Adding a cell tower to the site plans should trigger a zoning change and force Vertex to go back through the planning process to include a cell tower as a specific use in the DRI, she said.
“The PDR (planned development residential) zoning district is not currently zoned for a cell tower use,” Petroff said. “(Homeowners) all bought knowing what they got.”
County planner Sharon Tarman and Westine disagreed.
“When the DRI was developed, it was before cell towers were prominent so it was not included in their listed uses,” Tarman said.
Westine said she could get a clearance letter from the Department of Community Affairs, the body that governs DRIs, but even that would not be necessary under the county’s requirements.
Residents who spoke at the meeting primarily argued the issue of compatibility, noting when they moved into their golf community, nothing ever indicated a cell tower could be placed near their homes.
“The possibility of a 150-foot flagpole within a football field of my house is (ridiculous),” resident Michael Murphy said. “It was never in the realm of possibility (when I bought my house).”
The River Club HOA is planning to do whatever it can to prevent the tower from being constructed near the front parking lot of the River Club Golf Club. Harrison said the HOA holds all the Southwest Florida Water Management District permits for River Club’s storm water system, including lakes on the golf course. If Manatee commissioners approve the plan, the HOA will not allow Vertex to use its drainage system as it will need.
Petroff also argued homeowner’s association documents state the golf course should be used as a golf course in perpetuity or remain as open space.
Tarman said the course itself will not be changing uses and the tower will occupy only a 40-foot-by-40-foot parcel that will not affect play on the course.
“The golf course will not change use,” Tarman said.
Westine and a radio frequency engineer stated T-Mobile has co-located on neighboring tower sites and has looked at commercial and other properties along State Road 70 — none of which would meet the carrier’s needs to provide service inside homes in River Club.
T-Mobile spokesperson Ann Brooks said the cellular provider is working to provide full coverage to River Club residents in their homes as well as meet the growing demands of customers, who now are using cell phones as landlines and increasing their wireless usage through technology.
If constructed, the proposed tower will accommodate up to four other cellular phone providers.
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Westine also said Vertex is willing not to fly an American flag on the tower as proposed.