It’s becoming the Br’er Rabbit tar baby of Longboat Key. That is, the subject of cell towers.
Heretofore, the topic has been somewhat ethereal, largely confined to debate and discussions among residents and, to an extent, the occasional debate in the Town Commission Chambers.
But now it’s becoming more real and tangible. Longboat Island Chapel has signed a five-year lease agreement with Alpha-Omega Communications, owned by north Longboat Key resident James Eatrides, and Tampa-based Ridan Industries II.
Alpha-Omega and Ridan will propose erecting and managing what they hope to be a 150-foot “stealth” cell tower on property east of the chapel — so long, of course, they obtain Town Commission approval. The hearings are expected to begin in October.
The chapel would benefit financially from the lease payments from Alpha-Omega and Ridan; Longboat Key’s lousy, north-end cellular reception would improve dramatically; and Alpha-Omega and Ridan would earn a fair return on their efforts for the previous three years and beyond.
Everybody wins. Except for one thing.
There are still many residents on the north end of Longboat Key who object to the sight of a 150-foot cell tower in their otherwise sunny and starry skyline. Longboat Key, they contend, isn’t the place for a structure as tacky and obtrusive as a 150-foot fake palm or pine tree protruding in the air.
This is such a tar baby.
A member of the Longboat Key Public Interest Committee Board of Directors likened the issue to abortion.
No matter what arguments or logic you present, you will not sway people.
There are those who say such a tower will hurt property values and is simply inappropriate for the ambience of the Key. And there are those who say: Get over it; it’s 2010, and better cell phone reception trumps by far the fact a 150-foot fake tree will be reaching into the sky.
You might even consider the issue this way: What will drag down property values more — a cell tower that enhances cellular communications or a deteriorating state of Whitney Beach Plaza, the old bank building and the shuttered gas station on the north end?
Ask former Mayor Jeremy Whatmough that question, and the staunch opponent of the cell tower would say both conditions are bad for the Key, even if the cell tower improves communications.
To an extent, there may be some serendipity here, serendipity in the timing of the cell tower and the town’s discussions of a vision plan for the future.
Think of our vision for the future. Do we really want a 150-foot cell tower on Longboat Key?
For south Longboat residents, the question doesn’t resonate too much; they benefit from mini-cell towers on top of high-rise condominiums.
But say you propose erecting a cell tower in Country Club Shores or Bay Isles. You can bet the opposition would fill the pews at public hearings at Temple Beth Israel, just as they were packed for the Longboat Key Club and Resort.
Truth is, Longboaters surely would say they would like to have their proverbial cake and eat it, too — better reception and no tower. For that matter, you could extend the discussion and say Key residents also would like a future devoid of utility poles and wires. Put all that clutter under ground.
Now, there is a good objective — islandwide electric, cable TV, phone and “WiFi” connections under ground. That would fit in precisely with the idea of “Paradise Found,” the proposed vision statement in the accompanying box.
Meantime, though, the chapel and Eatrides want to move forward on the cell tower. And though Eatrides has a selfish interest in seeing the tower erected, he and other cellular experts can give you chapter and verse on how all of the other alternatives to a cell tower don’t come close to providing the level of service of a cell tower at an affordable price.
Indeed, read the excerpt below from the Saturday Wall Street Journal. Technology columnist, Walter Mossberg, reviewed the use of femtocells in his and his son’s homes. Results: mixed, no panacea.
In addition, some Longboat residents who attended PIC’s public forum on cellular service last March also may recall that every available option discussed at the forum — cell towers, indoor and outdoor distributed antennae service (DAS), femtocells, municipal WiFi — comes with considerable drawbacks. Most of them are not ready yet for prime time, economical or a be-all solution.
So what is a community to do?
Former Longboat Key Commissioner Gene Jaleski, a knowledgeable student on the subject, worries that the Town Commission members and town manager haven’t been educated to the depth necessary to know what options exist for the town beyond cell towers.
To that end, Eatrides is planning a public forum at the chapel in the next few weeks, expressly to address public concerns. Perhaps the Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key Chamber of Commerce and Public Interest Committee might facilitate or sponsor additional forums as PIC did in March, now that the matter is growing ever more real. This newspaper certainly is willing to participate as well.
Indeed, a cell tower on the Key is big decision. It’s not as crucial as deciding how to maintain our beaches. But it’s an issue that affects the quality of life here.
We’ve become ambivalent on a cell tower. Previously, it was clear; it still is: A cell tower is the most economical way to fill the real need of having decent cellular service. But we also wince at the thought of a 150-foot cell tower. We’d prefer not to have one in our neighbor’s lot.
At the same time, there is this: Nothing is forever. In five years, cell towers are likely to be obsolete. When they are, take it down. Perhaps that approach can assuage. Everyone could win.
THOUGHT STARTER: A VISION, MISSION, CORE VALUES
It’s not right just to complain (see “Blurry vision,” Aug. 26). If you’re going to complain or criticize, you also are expected to offer constructive choices.
To that end, with thanks to Longboat Key resident Bob Gault, we offer a “thought starter” on creating a town vision statement, mission statement and core values.
VISION STATEMENT: Paradise Found.
MISSION STATEMENT: Apply common-sense strategies and tactics to preserve and promote our “Paradise Found” to the benefit of existing and future residents and businesses while listening to ‘We the People.”
• Create and reinforce a welcoming community and government atmosphere.
• Exemplary ethics in government.
• Fiscal responsibility.
• Protect citizen and business property rights.
• Responsible environmental and aesthetic stewardship.
• Promote a common-sense approach to fostering a market-oriented mix of residential and commercial land use.
• Support efforts to enhance property values.
• Protect the principles of individual life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
• Listen and respond to “We the People.”
If you have other ideas, let us hear from you. Send your suggestions to: [email protected].
EXCERPTS: WSJ’S WALTER MOSSBERG ON FEMTOCELL SERVICE
“… My verdict is that the AT&T MicroCell can, indeed, dramatically improve cellular reception and reliability, but it’s not a silver bullet. I found it works best in truly dire coverage locations, with little or no service, like my son’s apartment.
“It is less useful in places like my house where the carrier’s outside towers provide some reception, even if you find that outside reception unreliable. I also ran into limitations on where you can place the MicroCell and how much of a home it can cover…
“These devices, technically called femtocells, work like small versions of a cell tower. You plug them into your home broadband network, through which they acquire a signal from the carrier’s network. Then, they wirelessly redistribute that signal inside the home. Your cell phone treats this signal as if it came from a real outside tower and latches onto it. But the signal supposedly is stronger and better, because it’s much closer and more focused.
“While some people will welcome these devices as a godsend, others will resent the idea that they have to spend anything extra to get cell phone service they are already paying for.
“Plus, when you make calls while your phone is connected to the MicroCell, you are still using up minutes in your AT&T plan, just as you would on a regular outside tower, unless you buy an optional extra-cost MicroCell service plan …
“AT&T says the MicroCell has a range of 40 feet in any one direction and can cover up to a 5,000-square-foot house. At my house, which is considerably smaller than that, it worked fine with both an iPhone and a BlackBerry, as long as I was in the same room as the little transmitter. In those spots, calls were made and received fine and hardly ever dropped.
“But it didn’t magically give me great coverage everywhere. First and foremost, because I do have fair coverage in most of my house, my two phones kept switching between the MicroCell and the outside AT&T tower when I wasn’t close to the device. Once in the midst of a conversation, the call cut off …
“Overall, I can only firmly recommend the MircoCell for situations where coverage is virtually nil, you are willing to spend an extra $150 and you can locate it in a way that works. If you just want to improve a spotty signal, or a few weak areas in your house, you might be disappointed.”
Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.