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Longboat Key Wednesday, May. 29, 2013 4 years ago

Officials rethink Key telecommunications

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

The town’s telecommunications draft ordinance will undergo more changes.

Planning, Zoning and Building Director Robin Meyer and his staff distributed a draft of the town’s telecommunications ordinance in March. The draft does not ban cellular towers, but it makes it difficult for an applicant to place one on the Key.

The ordinance, Meyer said, was drafted based on direction from the Longboat Key Town Commission he received at that time.

But, after discussing the draft with the commission at the May 20 regular workshop and the Planning and Zoning Board’s meeting May 21, Meyer says the ordinance needs some tweaking.

Language in the draft ordinance, which the town posted to its website for review, states towers are allowable in the Community Facility zoning district and in any other zoning district, if in conjunction with town-owned public-safety facilities.

The only sites on the Key that can accommodate a tower are the Longboat Island Chapel, Public Works Department property or the site of the Public Safety Complex in the 5400 block of Gulf of Mexico Drive.

But if an applicant wants to build a cell tower, he has to demonstrate effectively why other cellular options, such as Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), won’t work.

The economics of systems such as DAS technology, the draft ordinance states, will not be considered as a reason for why an applicant has to use cell tower technology.

At the commission workshop, Commissioner Terry Gans argued that not allowing economics to be a reason is nonsense.

“It’s an unbeatable standard to say cost can’t be a reason for not building a tower,” Gans said. “It’s not living in the real world.”

Commissioner Pat Zunz said a town-authorized study “shows serious deficiencies in cellular coverage on the north end of the Key” and urged commissioners to take the issue seriously.

At the workshop, Town Manager Dave Bullock received direction to hold discussions with cellular providers to see what can be done to improve reception and what it would take to get them to improve service.

Whether that help comes in the form of financial help from the town is yet to be determined.

The discussion continued the following day with planning board members who also believe the draft ordinance is too strict.

“We have to realize we’re also charged with creating an ordinance that provides for the health, safety and welfare of the community,” said Planning Board Chairwoman B.J. Webb. “I was pleased to hear some commission discussion that involves working with carriers and the possibility of financial incentives to make something happen.”

Planning Board member Kenneth Schneier said the ordinance “basically says if you want to build a tower, go somewhere else.”

Meyer told planning board members he understood their concern.

“We went to the commission and tried to get some direction on this, which led to an ordinance that makes towers the least-desirable form of telecommunications,” Meyer said. “That was the direction at that time, but that direction has shifted because I didn’t hear such firm vocalization yesterday from commissioners. The process may bring us back the other direction.”

After planning board members suggested changes that may make the ordinance less strict, they directed planning staff to bring the draft ordinance back before the board.

“If a tower is permitted, though, residents will pound us for why we allowed a tower to be permitted,” Meyer said. “No one wants a tower in their neighborhood.

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