Longboat Key isn’t the only barrier-island community with cell-phone-reception issues and a controversy on how to solve the problem.
The town’s northern neighbor, Bradenton Beach, is toying with the idea of allowing a cellular tower to be placed near its public works department, which would blend in with several sailboat poles in the area.
Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale told a group of city officials at a Bradenton Beach committee meeting Monday, June 8, that if the city didn’t erect a tower somewhere within city limits, Manatee County would continue its efforts to place a tower on the bay, directly across from the Coquina Beach concession stand.
The county has considered a tower near the site of its future public safety complex, which will be built this year on Gulf Drive across from Coquina Beach.
Bradenton Beach Mayor Michael Pierce says the county is pushing for a tower in that area, because beachgoers have terrible reception on the beach and can’t even dial 911, if needed.
Speciale displayed digital images of tall, thin towers called “unipoles” in various locations around the city, which city officials and local business owners had trouble identifying.
“The cell system out here is terrible, and even my officers in their patrol cars cannot get reception for their computers on the north end,” Speciale said. “If we decide where a tower can go here, the city could get close to $24,000 a year from lease revenues.”
Speciale said that although he had heard and read reviews about Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), which is a tiny network of antennas that can be placed on power and telephone poles to boost reception, he thought they would detract from the aesthetics of the city.
But Longboat Key Commissioner Gene Jaleski, who attened the meeting, urged city officials to let the residents of their community decide what’s best.
“I asked people on Longboat Key if they would rather have DAS than a tall tower, and only two out of 260 people didn’t sign a petition in favor of smaller antennas,” Jaleski said.
And, former Longboat Key Mayor Jeremy Whatmough told those in attendance that a cell-phone tower near his home in the Sarasota Polo Grounds has done nothing to improve cell-phone reception in that area.
“Once you cross the line in the sand, there is no return,” Whatmough said. “Towers may become a thing of the past sooner than we all think.”
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