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Longboat Key Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013 4 years ago

Town sends signal with wireless draft

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

A new draft of the town’s telecommunications ordinance popped up on the town’s website last week before it makes its way into the Town Hall chambers as part of a public-hearing process.

The draft ordinance appeared on the town of Longboat Key’s website March 13. It’s a new process Town Manager Dave Bullock is implementing for controversial topics that are heading to Town Hall and one that his former employer, Sarasota County, uses.

The draft ordinance doesn’t ban cellular towers, but it forces an applicant to prove why other technologies can’t be installed before a tower can be considered.

Language in the draft ordinance states towers are allowable in the Community Facility Institutional zoning district and in any other zoning district, if constructed in conjunction with town-owned public safety facilities.
Translation: 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. The Public Safety Complex is also listed as a reasonable site.

Planning, Zoning and Building Director Robin Meyer, though, said the draft’s biggest change involves creating a hierarchical code.

Translation: Antennae and personal wireless-service facilities mounted on utility poles, such as Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), can be permitted outright without site-plan approval or a public-hearing process.
“But, if an applicant wants to build a cell tower, then they have to demonstrate effectively why all those previous options can’t and won’t work,” Meyer said.

The expensive price tag of systems such as DAS technology, Meyer said, also will not be considered as a reason why an applicant has to use cell tower technology.

If an applicant is able to prove to the Planning, Zoning and Building Department a tower is needed, the applicant must then pay for an independent analysis that will either corroborate or refute why a tower is needed.

The draft ordinance mandates a tower can be 100 feet tall at the Public Works site and 110 feet tall at the chapel and Public Safety Complex sites.

Meyer said the ordinance has been in draft form for months while his staff revised it and looked at ordinances from other municipalities to craft something that makes it tough to build a tower, but doesn’t ban them altogether.

“It’s been made pretty clear towers are felt to be impactful,” Meyer said. “This ordinance has been vetted by the town attorney and staff and is not unique. It’s a draft ordinance that was drafted with the thought of benefiting the town, not the tower industry.”

The ordinance will stay on the town’s website for at least 30 days for the public to read and provide comment on the site before the Planning and Zoning Board and the Town Commission reviews the ordinance in a public-hearing process.

“It’s an opportunity for more people to give direct comment and suggestions on how to improve the ordinance,” Bullock said. “We post all the comments for everyone to see, and it gives everyone an equal voice.”

Bullock calls the new website format “a chance for as much input as possible.”

“We may modify the ordinance and take it down and post a new one if we see some good ideas,” he said.
Bullock said it might also help diffuse some of the tension and back-and-forth discussions among those who are for and against cell towers before the public-hearing process begins.

“Rather than having these battles or discussions at the meetings, a lot of time what we saw in Sarasota County is people saw the other’s position and worked out some of their issues before the hearings began,” Bullock said.

The draft ordinance is expected to come before the planning board in May. Meyer hopes to get it to the board before it goes on hiatus during the summer months.

The draft ordinance and the new public-input process are receiving mixed results.

North-end resident Gus Sclafani, who opposes a cellular tower for the Key, declined to comment and said he wouldn’t participate in the website comment process, choosing, instead, to hold his comments for a public hearing.

Jim Eatrides, owner of Alpha-Omega Communications LLC, withdrew an application to place a 150-foot cellular tower at the Longboat Island Chapel property at the request of town staff to allow the town to make telecommunications changes to its Comprehensive Plan and ordinance.

When asked about the draft ordinance, Eatrides said, “If it looks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, it probably is a de facto ban duck.”

So far, former commission-seat seekers Larry Grossman and Gene Jaleski are the only two to take advantage of the public-comment section on the draft ordinance online.

Neither are fans of the ordinance.

Grossman, a former planner, asks the town to provide comparable ordinances for review.

And Jaleski said it’s time to go back to the drawing board. He questions why the town isn’t including some newer technologies as part of its hierarchy system.

“This ordinance, in its present form, is inadequate, dated, incomplete and with too much emphasis on macro tower technology when newer technologies are now available,” Jaleski wrote.

Contact Kurt Schultheis at [email protected].

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