Three weeks ago, the city of Bradenton Beach on Anna Maria Island held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new 150-foot cell tower that will be placed on Bradenton Beach Public Works property this summer.
The city received a $320,000 check by the new tower operators and monthly lease payments of $2,500 per carrier for the city’s revenue stream. AT&T and Verizon Wireless have already signed agreements to co-anchor the tower immediately, which will generate $5,000 per month for the city.
In the city of Anna Maria on the northern tip of Anna Maria Island, Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn and staff are working toward permitting a similar tower like the one in Bradenton Beach that will be placed on the Anna Maria City Hall property sometime next year once plans are in place.
Both SueLynn in Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale, who acted as the city’s cellular tower liaison throughout the five-year process, called the towers no-brainers for their respective communities.
“We want voice and data service for the city’s residents, visitors, and island workers,” SueLynn said. “And we want public safety personnel improved.”
Speciale said the last five years of debate and ordinance rewriting have been worth it to get a tower built in his city this summer. Part of the hang-ups in Bradenton Beach, Speciale said, can be attributed to Longboat Key residents and officials approaching city commissioners at meetings to urge the city to consider cellular tower alternatives such as Distributed Antenna Systems, which are strung up on existing power poles.
“I’m not saying that’s a bad thing because it helped us vet the technologies,” Speciale said. “But at the end of the day, our city officials and most residents said, ‘We really need this.’”
Ending the debate
Speciale’s sentiment is a far cry from a neighboring municipality to the south.
While Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria prepare for new towers that will attract carriers and improve communication for Anna Maria Island, the Longboat Key Town Commission unanimously approved a telecommunications ordinance on second reading Monday afternoon at Town Hall that deletes all references to cellular towers.
In November, the commisison told staff to delete references to towers altogether.
The ordinance urges applicants to come forward with other technologies that will improve what’s perceived as weak signal strength on the north end of the Key.
In Bradenton Beach, Speciale said the city researched all of those technologies and couldn’t find anyone to build them.
“Now we have a tower that will blend in with the mastheads of sailboats,” Speciale said.
By Thanksgiving, the Bradenton Beach tower will be operational.
While the Longboat Key commission is hopeful someone will approach the town in the near future to create a viable cellular alternative, some Key residents aren’t so hopeful.
“The tower is the only solution that carriers are willing to utilize,” said former mayor and Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force Chair George Spoll.
Jim Eatrides, owner of Alpha Omega Communications LLC and his project partner with Ridan Industries LLC, Kevin Barile, brokered agreements for towers in Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria.
They were unable to persuade both the majority of residents and the Longboat Island Chapel board of directors to continue their efforts to build a tower on the chapel site at 6200 Gulf of Mexico Drive after more than five years’ worth of work. The chapel board allowed a three-year lease for a tower to expire without renewal in July 2013.
When the commission passed its ordinance Monday, Commissioner Terry Gans asked tower opponents and Key residents Gus Sclafani and Ron Platt if they would now be willing to take down large blue signs with white lettering on them that read, “NO CELL TOWERS.”
Sclafani, an opponent of a tower near his home or on any part of the Key that he and others considers unsightly, looked at commissioners and smiled before saying, “Absolutely.”
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