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East County Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009 8 years ago

Commission denies cell tower application

by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

RIVER CLUB — After nearly two years of battling a proposed cell phone tower in the heart of their community, homeowners in River Club celebrated a long-awaited victory Dec. 3.

The Manatee County Board of County Commissioners on Dec. 3 voted 6-1 to deny an application by Vertex Development to construct a 150-foot flagpole-style telecommunications tower in front of River Club’s clubhouse. The tower would provide service to T-Mobile customers and possibly other carriers.

“This (was) a community effort,” River Club No Cell Tower Committee member Greg Gallagher said. “It’s a long road to have hauled … that led to this success. It’s a job well done (by) the community. I’m overwhelmed at this point.”

Homeowner Craig Harrison, who has been on the forefront of the fight with his wife, Cecelia, said the victory is one shared with the community, as well.

“The decision preserves the residential neighborhood of River Club and its excellent precedent to preserve the neighborhood character of other communities facing the same issue,” Harrison said.

Although county planning staff and Vertex representatives said the tower did comply with county development codes, the majority of commissioners said they were not convinced the application met county regulations or that the tower could be considered an auxiliary use to the golf course as county planning staff suggested.

In his motion to deny the project, Commissioner Joe McClash also cited portions of Chapter 6, Section 603 of the county’s land development code, which he felt were not satisfied by the existing application.

“(The tower is) not compatible with the approved development,” McClash said after the vote. “I really feel it goes against building that sense of community we talk about.”

Commissioner Donna Hayes, who represents the East County, agreed there were too many uncertainties to give the application her support.

“There were some questionable issues there,” Hayes said. “This was a very difficult vote for me to make.”
Vertex’s attorney, Lauralee Westine, said she is discussing litigation options with her client.

River Club Golf Course owner Mike Pascuzzi, who had agreed to lease a portion of his golf course property for the tower, said he was happy for residents.

“I thought the homeowners did a really good job presenting their case; my hats are off to them,” he said. “The homeowners themselves did a terrific job, better than the attorneys.”

Pascuzzi said his decision to lease the property was a business decision.

“I’m doing everything I can to try to survive this economic downfall,” he said. “I’m always looking for ways to improve our revenues and lower our expense. I’m going to do everything I can to keep this golf course going. I have no animosity toward anybody. It’s not personal with me. It’s just business. I’m not trying to hurt anybody. I’m looking at the total picture.”

Pascuzzi said he was not sure he would continue to offer the site for lease should the applicant proceed with legal action to secure the site.

T-Mobile has been working to find a usable site in the River Club area since 2005, the company’s spokesperson Ann Brooks said. Brooks could not yet say what T-Mobile’s next step would be but noted the selection of the River Club site had been made thorough scientific evaluation to rule out other potential sites.

“That need (for coverage) hasn’t gone away just because the site was denied,” Brooks said. “We do still feel like we have a need to provide better services to our customers in this area.”

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

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