Town moves ahead with approved street light plan, though some residents cry foul over height and aesthetics.
The continuation of Longboat Key’s $49.1 million utilities project has prompted the start of street light installations throughout the island as poles and overhead power lines begin coming down.
Nearly two years ago, the Town Commission approved the style and height of the streetlight poles despite some recent criticism from residents.
Given the Town Commission’s approval of which specific poles to order and install, Longboat Key Public Works Director Isaac Brownman said it is too late to make changes to height and design, which were in part chosen to support digital communication gear.
“We’ve been proceeding forward with designs and we’ve ordered…we have inventory of the streetlight poles already for phase one [of the project on the south end of the island],” Brownman said. “We’re under construction, so I’d say that that train has left the station.”
On May 20, 2019, the commission agreed to a street light height limit of 35 feet for the poles on Gulf of Mexico Drive with black color, a cobra-head highway-type fixture style.
On Sept. 23, 2019, the commission approved a 25-foot height limit for the neighborhood poles.
Brownman explained the reason for the height limits.
“For these to potentially have the smart capabilities for future current or future technology, for example, to put an antenna on top, the poles themselves have to be a little shorter to accommodate say a 2- to 3-foot antenna to have a max height of 35 feet and 25 feet,” Brownman said.
Longbeach Village resident Pete Rowan said he’d like to see the town reconsider and look at alternative street light poles. Last month, Rowan presented a slideshow during a Town Commission meeting.
“As a town, we’re presenting this massive investment, and I don’t think we’ve pursued other options as well as we should have,” Rowan said.
Rowan would like to see shorter poles in the neighborhood, but he was more concerned about their design.
“The priority is a more decorative pole and base,” Rowan said.
A portion of the Longboat Key North community group conducted an unofficial poll of 94 households. Rowan said all 94 respondents preferred a 15-foot pole for the Village neighborhood compared to the taller options available.
Longboat Key resident Ed Krepela said he’d like to see the maximum pole heights lowered in neighborhoods, but to somewhere between 18-20 feet.
Krepela’s interest in electronics began when he served in the Marine Corps from 1957-1961. While working as an RF microwave system engineer for Grumman Aerospace Corp., Krepla and his wife lived on Fire Island, which is a barrier island community on the south end of Long Island, New York.
It’s no secret the north end of Longboat Key has spotty cellphone service. It’s an issue that has plagued residents and town commissioners in recent years. Commissioners discussed the importance of improving cellphone service in November 2020 at their annual retreat, which has long been a goal.
Citing his background and expertise, Krepla said 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) would work fine on a pole at 18 feet. Rowan agreed on 4G LTE being a viable option to improve cell phone service on the north end of the island.
“It’s based upon all the technology that they’ve ramped up the bandwidth on,” Rowan said. “So with this older technology, you’re still getting 600 megabytes-per-second service, and that should be more than enough, so you don’t need to go to 5G.”
According to Krepla and Brownman, current technology only allows for 5G broadband cellular networks to work in dense cities.
Krepla and Brownman said Longboat Key is not like large U.S. cities, where it's possible to have 5G.
The town has retained KCI Technologies to serve as an advisor to continue discussions with cell-service carriers and make recommendations of the next steps for future technology considerations, including adding communications gear to the town's light poles.
The town has long opposed traditional standalone cell towers or towers masquerading as flagpoles, trees or religious symbols.
The three-phase contract with KCI is not to exceed a total of $16,300, according to Brownman:
- Phase one: Not to exceed $3,000
- Phase two: Not to exceed $6,700
- Phase three: Not to exceed $6,600
KCI has helped the town in its discussions with AT&T and Verizon. As of Monday, no deal has been made between the town and the providers.
“Do we need a private partnership? Absolutely,” Krepela said. “The answer is yes. We have to have one.”
Krepela outlined why he believes partnering with Longboat Key is appealing to a private provider even though there are only about 7,000 full-time residents on the island.
“We’re strategically located between Bradenton and Sarasota,” Krepela said. “If you run fiber conduit, which we’re doing, up and down the island on [Gulf of Mexico Drive], and by the way we already have four-inch conduit under both passes under New Pass and [Longboat Key Pass], we have four-inch conduit already there, it is much, much less expensive for a service provider…to come in, install their fiber on our conduit, connect Bradenton and Sarasota, and now you’re controlling two of the largest cities in Southwest Florida.”
Crews will begin installing the new streetlights as the undergrounding project continues.
Phase one of the town’s undergrounding project from the southern tip of the island to the Country Club Shores neighborhood is nearly completed.
Work on phase two of the project continues from the northern tip of the island to Dream Island Road. The town is in the process of receiving materials for phase three of the project from Country Club Shores to the county line. Phase three work is scheduled to start by early February, Longboat Key projects manager James Linkogle said. It will start no later than March.
Phase four goes from Dream Island Road south to the county line.
Longboat Key plans to have its underground utilities project finished by the end of 2022.
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