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East County Wednesday, Mar. 3, 2010 7 years ago

Manatee County adopts new cell tower ordinance

by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Download the complete ordinance here.

MANATEE COUNTY — In the last two years, East County residents have waged war against the development of telecommunication towers in residential areas.

And on Feb. 23, the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners joined their efforts by adopting a new ordinance that makes it clear the county prefers cell tower developers look first to non-residential areas to provide coverage to customers.

The ordinance more clearly defines the process by which personal wireless service facilities can be approved, makes the process more public and also provides incentives, such as the fast-tracking of approvals, for providers who place towers in preferred zoning districts.

The ordinance went into effect immediately.

“There are still a few tweaks that need to be done, but it establishes the preferred areas (for placing towers) and makes it more difficult to do it in residential areas,” Manatee County Planning Director John Osborne said.

Although the ordinance will offer no assistance for neighborhoods such as River Club, which already has fought the cell tower battle, it may provide relief for future communities. Palm-Aire, for example, currently is facing the potential construction of a 150-foot monopole tower at 5625 Whitfield Ave., a site adjacent to a Palm-Aire golf course maintenance facility. But because the application by Vertex Development was not yet complete at the time of the vote, it now will be reviewed according to the county’s new ordinance.

“We really feel that the core component of the code is the protection of the residential communities in that the code is written so residential is (picked as a) last resort,” said Deborah Chapman, who organized Palm-Aire’s Homeowners Against the Tower group. “We think that is the most important thing.”

Chapman said a review of the application under the new standards will serve as a critical test for whether the new ordinance actually will protect residents.

“If it doesn’t result in the Palm-Aire application being denied, then I’d say the new code doesn’t work,” she said. “We are very, very optimistic, given the way it’s written, the code should (keep the tower from that location).”

Lauralee Westine, attorney for Vertex, said she is waiting to review a final version of the ordinance to see how it will impact the Palm-Aire application.

The new ordinance spells out a preference toward the development of cell towers on industrial sites first, then commercial, office and agricultural lands of 40 acres or more. The ordinance gives an incentive to tower developers by offering a more streamlined approval process if they opt for one of the county’s preferred zoning districts. It also encourages the use of already-developed sites, including properties used for governmental operations, which are visually impacted by tall structures, as well as the co-location of service providers on existing cell towers.

Additionally, more restrictions specifically are placed on the development of telecommunication towers in residential areas. For example, for a cell tower proposed for any development that does not have a tower as an allowed use, developers now must go back to the county commission for a public hearing rather than obtain approval administratively. Developers who have included a cell tower as an allowed use in their project also must be more specific in detailing where that tower will be placed.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

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