Issues to Watch 2014: Cell towers

 

Issues to Watch 2014: Cell towers

 

Date: January 8, 2014
by: Kurt Schultheis | Managing Editor

 
 

The cities of Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach are preparing to install cellular towers in their Anna Maria Island towns in 2014 to enhance cellular communications.

But to the south, the town of Longboat Key announced in 2013 it will not follow with a tower on its barrier island.

In November, the Longboat Key Town Commission declared it does not want a tower and expects applicants to come forward with an alternative technology to enhance communications on the Key.
Commissioners want staff and the town attorney to craft an ordinance that says they don’t want a tower without starting a legal nightmare among cellular carriers who might question the legality of such an ordinance.

At the commission’s Nov. 13 regular workshop, during which the commission could not 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 Nov. 13.

Commissioners Phill Younger and Jack Duncan agreed, urging other commissioners to make their opinions known through a 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 Nov. 13. “I don’t want a tower. I don’t know why we can’t just put language in there saying that.”

Brown and Commissioners Terry Gans, Duncan, Younger and Zunz raised their hands in agreement.
Only Vice Mayor David Brenner and Commissioner Lynn Larson did not raise their hands. But they, too, agreed they would rather not see a tower on the Key.

“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 at the workshop.

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 has asked for time to review the legality of such a statement in an ordinance.

Town Manager Dave Bullock is also addressing the legality of an ordinance that would address telecommunications without a tower. He will utilize the help of a consultant and report his findings back to the commission later this year.

Staff will draft an ordinance that includes a hierarchy urging applicants to place antennae on existing Key buildings and structures or use technology such as Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) to improve reception. Commissioners want to eliminate camouflage towers from the list. 

At the November workshop, 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. 

The decision was made after The Longboat Island Chapel membership voted 52-16 in April in favor of letting a cellular-tower lease on its property expire rather than approve a three-year extension for a 150-foot tower on its property.

Jim Eatrides, owner of Alpha Omega Communications LLC, and Kevin Barile, a project partner with Ridan Industries LLC, had been working on placing a tower on the north end of the Key for more than four years to bridge a cellular-coverage gap on the north end.

For those residents who lived near the proposed tower, though, the chapel membership’s decision was a victory.

“The vote is a lovely thing,” said Doreen Erickson in April, who, along with her husband, Gus Sclafani, has opposed a tower from the start. “No one wants a tower near their home, where they work or where they worship.”

Overview:
The Longboat Key Town Commission announced in November it did not want a cellular tower. Town staff and the town attorney are now working to craft an ordinance that states the town does not want a tower with language that will not cause legal issues and open up the town to a lawsuit.

Players: Longboat Key Town Commission, Town Manager Dave Bullock, Key residents

Timeline: The commission is expected to review ordinance language sometime this year that urges for telecommunications fixes that don’t include a cellular tower.

Contact Kurt Schultheis at kschultheis@yourobserver.com

 

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