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The ‘Zoning Board’

GENE JALESKI
Guest Columnist
opinion@lbknews.com

The ‘Zoning Board’ (formerly known as the Planning and Zoning Board) commenced Oct. 18 the deconstruction of Longboat Key, in concert with some Longboat Key commissioners who appear to instruct the Zoning Board as to what the Town Commission requires. After months of meetings, these nine individuals concocted the final solution for destroying the premier seasonal retirement community on the west coast of Florida and one of the most sought-after home sites in America.

Anyone who has followed the machinations of the ‘Zoning Board’ knows that the ‘Zoning Board’ meeting, held this past Tuesday on the proposed cell tower at Longboat Island Chapel, was merely a legal formality that had to be suffered by the members of the ‘Zoning Board.’ The final vote had been decided weeks prior to the public hearing. Small details — such as a two-to-one margin of north end residents who oppose the 150-foot cell towers and millions of dollars of devaluation to property owners — were ignored.

It seems that the current ‘Zoning Board’ has little regard for the public interest, and it is driven by a few ideological insiders with personal ties to several of its members. What we saw this past Tuesday was a sham and a disgrace. Our town government is falling apart into special interests, incivility and near chaos. We are perhaps the only community in America to have four different town managers in a month’s time. Anyone attending the two emergency commission meetings this week has witnessed the nadir of our political system, where the presence of an armed police officer may have been advisable to protect the commissioners from one another.

As always one has to ponder the amazing unanimity of thought, discussion and voting on the current ‘Zoning Board’ that has reduced itself to a rubber stamp for certain commissioners’ agendas. I wonder how the ‘Zoning Board’ members arrive at such a homogeneous consensus over and over again.

The last time I had dealings with the ‘Zoning Board’ was the unsavory episode surrounding Moore’s Restaurant. Despite overwhelming public support for Moore’s referendum to allow Moore’s property to be rezoned residential, the ‘Zoning Board’ recommended against allowing the commission to rezone the property. I have seldom witnessed a more unattractive display of special interest, including Mr. Symanski’s whitepaper of voting points circulated to board members and commission members prior to voting. Even though a sitting commissioner officially complained to the town attorney about an apparent violation of the Sunshine Law, the town attorney chose to turn a blind eye to the perceived violation. There was also the problem of information being purloined from a Realtor’s files and private and prejudicial financial information being divulged by another ‘Zoning Board’ member. I lost all respect for the ‘Zoning Board’ as a result of what I witnessed with the Moore’s debacle.

It is my contention that a Planning and Zoning Board should spend most of its time on planning. In the case of last Tuesday’s cell tower hearing, a great deal of information was put forth by residents and lawyers emphasizing the need to find a better alternative to tall cell towers on Longboat Key. This is a position supported by both LBK newspapers, local real estate people and numerous prominent citizens. The ‘Zoning Board’ chose to ignore all this and recommend that the commission allow an unsightly structure to be erected within our community. They did this based almost exclusively on sales information supplied by the cell tower salespeople, and a cell phone company looking to save a buck or two at the expense of our residents, who will in turn suffer a multi-million dollar loss in property values if the recommendation is followed by the commission.

There was no planning. There was no attempt to consult industry experts as to the best communications infrastructure for our island. Instead the ‘Zoning Board’ members have allowed a small cell tower builder to compromise our land values for their personal profit. The ‘Zoning Board’ may well have compromised our communications future as a result of their overwhelming zeal to build a cell tower without doing adequate research. Cellular industry executives have told me that building a tall cell tower will prevent newer and superior technologies from reaching our community.

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2 Responses for “The ‘Zoning Board’”

  1. Gene Jaleski says:

    The town is faced with a simple decision. They can allow the cell carriers to save money by installing a cell tower or they can protect our residents from millions of dollars in property devaluation and insist that the carriers install a Distributed Antenna System such as Lucent LightRadio instead of a cheaper cell tower. In high-end communities cell towers negatively affect property values by as much as 25%.

    Don’t our taxpayers come before the profits of some corporation?

    It is that simple.

  2. Larry Grossman says:

    It is a bit disconcerting to have been at last week’s Planning and Zoning Board hearing when the Board discussed how it needs to amend the Comprehensive Plan to consider establishing a Telecommunications Policy at the same time it was considering a proposal to install a teleccommunications tower on the Longboat Chapel site. More disconcerting that though it could not consider approving a site plan or the special exception because of an administrative appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals the Board approved two departures from a use it did not approve. Using a PUD Outline Development Plan as a mechanism for approval is an inappropriate vehicle for approval of a cell tower which is not a planned unit development involving residenrtial, hotel or commercial uses. The tower is a utility.

    Cell phone service, its availability and quality are important and will become moreso in the future as the community uses the phones as computers and communications centers. The Town could deem this service an essential utility. Then it could retain the expertise to determine the quality of service on the island and if deficient how to improve the service. The consultant would lay out the options and their consequences. If a cell tower was the best option then the Town, based on the consultant’s recommendation, determine the best location. The Town could select the site and seek a tower developer to construct and operate the facility. This process means that the Town identifies and documents that there is a problem with an essential service, develops a policy that states that it is in the public interest to provide the service, develops a plan to provide the service in whatever form is deemed appropriate to maximimize the public benefit and minimize the impacts to the community and then finds a way to provide the service. If zoning needs to be developed to permit the use then this would be in line with the policy and plan and implementation strategy decided by the Town. If the Town had no land zoned for this use what would it do if it needed the land for a cell tower? If it had only one property zoned Institutional that could accommodate this use for zoning purposes yet was inappropriate because of size or proximity to residential or for any other good reason what would the Town do? This process is backwards and will cause great consternation to the community for no good reason. This Town gets embroiled in battles it needs not fight and this largely stems from a lack of planning and a total abuse of a zoning ordinance which has to contort itself to accomodate issues that should have been resolved at the policy and planning levels.

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