An agreement has been reached with the Longboat Island Chapel to erect a 150-foot cellular tower on church property.
Longboat Island Chapel President Jared East and Secretary Hugh Joyner said that the church signed a tower lease agreement Monday, July 26, for a five-year lease with Jim Eatrides, the owner of Longboat Key-based Alpha Omega Communications, and Kevin Barile, president of the Tampa-based cell-tower development company, Ridan Industries II. The lease includes four five-year extension options.
The unipole stealth tower, if approved by the Town Commission, will sit just south of the chapel’s Lord’s Warehouse thrift shop building on the church’s 4.5-acre property at 6200 Gulf of Mexico Drive.
The financial terms of the lease agreement were not disclosed.
“A stealth tower is not supposed to look like a tower,” Barile said. “The cables are placed in the internal structure, and you can put a flag on it if you want to.”
The 150-foot tower, Eatrides said, allows for six cellular carriers to carry their services on the structure.
Barile said the lease agreement now allows him to get formal commitments from carriers who have already expressed an interest in the tower.
“This is being based on true demand,” Barile said. “Carriers have been interested in filling the wireless-communication gap out here for a long time.”
Eatrides and Barile said the lease agreement is a culmination of more than three years of discussions with the chapel’s board of directors and the congregation.
East said the church carefully weighed other options before signing the agreement, which will provide income for the church.
East said a survey sent out to his congregation’s estimated 250 parishioners “was overwhelmingly in favor” of the lease for the tower.
Eatrides and Barile called the Planning, Zoning and Building Department Monday to begin the pre-application process for their project. A pre-application meeting will be scheduled for next week.
Both Eatrides and Barile said it could take until the end of the year to get an application before the Planning and Zoning Board and, ultimately, the Town Commission, for final approval in early 2011.
According to the town’s current telecommunications ordinance, a tower can only be placed on either town or institutionally-zoned property.
“In terms of the church’s location, it works better here because the Public Works Department doesn’t have enough land to accommodate the structure,” Eatrides said.
“What makes the chapel the perfect spot for the tower is it’s right in the middle of the coverage gaps the carriers have out here,” Barile said. “It’s the logical spot.”
Barile said it would take at least 10 months before tower construction could begin.
But not all residents are receptive to the idea.
Neighborhing Key residents, including former Mayor Jeremy Whatmough and Gus Sclafani, have previously spoken out against a tower going on the chapel’s site.
And former Commissioner Gene Jaleski also has previously stated he and other Village residents don’t want a tower on the north end of the Key if other options exist.
When asked to comment on the lease agreement, Whatmough, who is trying to sell his beachfront home located across the street from the chapel, said, “My views on the subject are well-known. We will have to see how it all plays out.”
Jaleski maintained all residents are not in favor of the tower.
“This is a fix for a very small segment of the community,” said Jaleski, noting that reception issues would still exist on the south end of the Key and that a Wi-Fi network would be needed to attract visitors. “A Band-Aid solution to make some money for a church may not be the best solution for our community.”
Jaleski, Sclafani and Whatmough are three of 665 Longboaters who signed a petition last summer opposing cell towers and urging the installation of a distributed antenna system (DAS), which uses tiny antennas on top of utility poles to boost reception.
But Both Eatrides and church officials said DAS is not a viable option on the island.
“If it (DAS) would have worked and was economically viable for the island, I would have helped bring it here myself,” Eatrides said.
And East explained that the church carefully weighed all options before signing the agreement.
“We sat on this for three or four years to see if there was an interest or need for a more viable, economic alternative to the tower,” East said. “When no one else came forward, it led us to get off the fence.”
But the pending application at Town Hall does have at least one hurdle to clear. A portion of the town’s code calls for a tower to have a required setback that is two times the height of the tower or 200 feet, whichever is greater.
“We will need relief of the setback issue,” said Barile. “No institutional property exists on the north end, or the island for that matter, that is 600-feet-by-600 feet.”
East said the town will hopefully work to grant some relief.
“It’s new technology facing off against old zoning,” East said.
Why a tower?
Eatrides says that a tower is a must for the north end of the Key for several reasons.
“To the credit of town staff, they did the right and easiest thing first by using rooftops of vertical real estate for antennas on the north end of the Key,” Eatrides said. “The problem we have, though, is the north end doesn’t have vertical real estate. That’s why we have to go with a tower.”
The base of the tower would be 5.5 feet in diameter and would include elevated platforms supporting all of the carrier equipment that would sit 5-to-6 feet off the ground.
And the tallest portion of the tower would be 42 inches in diameter.
All of the equipment would be enclosed in a wall system and be shielded with landscaping.
“You won’t see this tower from the street, and the landscaping will make it unnoticeable on the property,” Eatrides said.
Both Eatrides and Barile say it’s the only tower the north end will need.
“This simply closes the hole in cellular coverage,” said Barile, while holding up a diagram that shows a dip in service coverage from the north-Key fire station to Cannons Marina (to download the rendering, click here).
Eatrides and Barile said they will be holding a community meeting, or meetings, in the fall to explain their intent to residents prior to any public hearings.
If any Key resident has questions, they can e-mail Barile at [email protected].
Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].