The commission could consider the proposal as soon as July.
The Longboat Key Town Commission will have a decision to make: Should rooftop lightning rods count toward the allowed height of homes?
So far, the town’s answer is yes. But commissioners have yet to weigh in.
The Planning and Zoning Board voted 5-1 on May 26 to approve an application from Windemuller Technical Services Vice President John Barber to allow “lightning protection systems” to be included as an exception to height regulations.
The proposal now heads to the Town Commission, perhaps before its summer hiatus begins in early July, which is also when the area sees the most thunderstorms.
The area around Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport experienced 23 thunderstorm days in July 2019, according to the National Weather Service. In August 2019, it was 28 thunderstorm days.
“It’s not just a matter of putting a rod on a building,” Barber said. “It has to be designed to meet certain specifications and standards and codes to fully protect the structure.”
Barber’s application is on behalf of landowner Boris Miksic’s home at 640 Halyard Lane in Country Club Shores IV North.
Barber’s proposal seeks to amend the town’s zoning code, which does not mention lightning rods as allowable items that exceed a home’s maximum height of 30 feet. The code allows exemptions for television or dish antennas; enclosed elevator shafts and vestibules; enclosed stairwells and landings; and closed mechanical equipment areas, parapet walls, worship center spires or towers, and any attached religious symbols or identifications emblems.
“We are restricting homeowners the right to protect their family and property,” Barber said.
Barber said the lightning rods on top of Miksic’s Halyard Lane home have to be a “minimum of 6 feet above the roof.”
“The reason for that is how the lighting system works: [It] protects up to 75,000 square feet by having that projection over the roof,” Barber said.
Temperatures of lightning bolts can reach close to 50,000 degrees.
The town planning staff recommended approving the measure and also noted that Manatee County, Sarasota County and municipalities of Sarasota, Venice, North Port and Bradenton all allow lightning systems to exceed height limitations.
For years, many Country Club Shores residents have opposed adding exceptions to the town’s 30-foot height limit for single-family homes in medium- and high-density areas.
Years ago, Country Club Shores Section IV Homeowner’s Association President Lynn Larson collected more than 100 signatures from residents of her neighborhood to petition to keep subsequent single-family homes at the town’s 30-foot height limit with no add-ons or exceptions.
Larson suggested a few alternatives.
“You could use a different type of lightning suppressor,” Larson said. “You could make the home a little bit less tall, but you should be able to accommodate that home within the 30 feet rule.
“If you absolutely cannot, say you have a home that for some reason it’s a hardship, you cannot get that done within that — maybe it’s an existing home you bought, and you’ve got a lightning problem — then you go and ask for a special variance.”
Larson said a variance would require homeowners to prove they need the lightning rods that exceed the existing 30-foot rule, and it would provide neighbors an opportunity to voice any potential impact on their homes.
“If somebody needs a special exception, then it should be handled as a special exception, and it should be proved,” Larson said. “And the neighbors get the opportunity to say, ‘How does this impact me and my property values?’”
Larson said property owners can put “as many lightning rods” as they want to as long as they abide by the 30-foot rule.
“Now you look out on the horizon, do you want to see a blue sky, or do you want to a sea of lightning rods?” Larson asked.
Barber estimated that 95% of the island’s single-family homes would require lightning-rod mast height of 6 feet to be effective.
“When we design a system, we look at the architecture of the house, the structure of the house, and we have to design a system to fully protect it to meet these standards,” Barber said.
Chair David Green, Vice Chair Ken Marsh and board members Penny Gold, David Lapovsky and Debra Williams voted in favor of Barber’s proposal.
“I’m sympathetic to not just this applicant but also to anyone else, you know, building a home or any kind of structure on the Key,” Marsh said. “They shouldn’t all have to come to through the town staff to do this.”
Board Member Phill Younger voted against it.
“I’d like to note that we’ve heard one person that is proposing this, which … and I would be in this position too, has an agenda to push a certain side,” he said. “And we’ve really heard nothing by anybody else that indicates whether this is either worthy or worth consideration.”
The measure could go before Town Commission as soon as July 1.