Cell Tower advocates get signals crossed
Editor & Publisher
The Longboat Key Town Commission’s telecommunications consultant, TE Connectivity, recommended a Distributed Antenna System (DAS) as the best remedy on Longboat Key to solve cell phone reception issues on the north end of the Island.
The study, which came in April, said DAS would not have near the aesthetic impact of a cell tower, cost less, and be expandable to address gaps in coverage.
That conclusion has roiled cell phone tower proponent and principal of Alpha Omega Communications, Jimmy Eatrides.
Eatrides submitted an application to place a 150-foot cell tower at Longboat Island Chapel last fall, but the application was deemed to be incomplete. And while Eatrides has not resubmitted an application, he sought to convey to the Commission numerous criticisms and what he says are flaws in TE Connectivity’s recommendations.
But Eatrides did not agree to attend a proposed June 15 meeting that the Town Manager attempted to set-up to do just that. He instead asked for additional time to present his case at the June 21 workshop. He was not granted additional time prior to the meeting and instead was allowed the standard three minutes to make public comment.
In an attempt to extend the three minutes, Eatrides at the podium during the meeting said five people in the room who wished to speak wanted to allocate their time to him thereby giving him an additional 15 minutes.
Sarasota Attorney Michael Furen, representing mid-Key resident Gus Sclafiani, immediately objected:
“I have grave concern in what appears to be an attempt to circumvent the open-to-the-public comment period. This is opening a very bad door to this Commission. It is a bad precedent,” said Furen.
Furen was referring to the fact that the Commission said it would not allow a challenge to the TE Connectivity study at this workshop especially without their representatives in attendance to rebut criticism.
Vice Mayor Dave Brenner agreed.
“If we were going to have a critic of the TE Connectivity report then we should have them here to respond,” said Brenner.
Mayor Jim Brown told Eatrides he had three minutes and his time-allocating-associates could also have three minutes each.
Eatrides then started his three minutes. He said his reason for asking for extra time is he thought is was important “to get info out before the summer break.”
Eatrides continued, “The info we have is DAS is the be all end all and a tower is not needed. That is not correct. I think the study is flawed. It would not be accomplished with four DAS nodes. If you have all the carriers you will have lots of nodes springing up. The way it was presented showing a low visual impact did not show perspective in terms of the two solutions (cell towers and DAS). The cost studies were also flawed. Even to try and approach what carriers would like to use you are talking about double the cost of what was indicated,” said Eatrides.
Verizon representative Tom Giacomo, PE manager of system performance for Verizon wireless, said the bottom line is, “we cannot over simplify what it takes to maintain our wireless networks. You have to be very careful; the proposed tower seems to be our most viable solution.”
Furen again objected: “I think Mr. Giacomo treading over the pending application is inappropriate and prejudices the proceeding.”
Vice Mayor Dave Brenner said the Commission had relied on staff for much of its approach.
“What we wanted to see is a provider spend time with the Town Manager and staff and go through this. That has not happened. I think the next step ought to be the Town Manager’s office. If that does not happen, we are going no place,” said Brenner.
Another industry representative, Mary Solik, was on hand and said she agrees with the conclusions of the TE Connectivty study but not the recommended solution of an outdoor DAS. She said the Town specifically removed height requirements and towers from the comprehensive plan ordinance. She said that creates a conflict in the Town’s land development regulations and the comprehensive plan.
“Towers cannot be moved forward,” said Solik. “I urge you to not let the TE Connectivity solution box you in and consider both the cell tower and DAS as recognized, viable solutions.”
North end resident Ron Platt said the study was well received and a good plan and that consultant has equal expertise in both DAS and cell towers. He then sighted the conclusion that favored DAS and femtocells, a femtocell is an inexpensive home cell phone reception booster available through each major carrier.
“It is time to bury the cell tower idea. We have had four years of speculation from cell tower protagonists. The cost of towers is more than their erection; the cost is a loss in property values as well,” said Platt.
Furen said, “It was inappropriate to allow one side of a controversy to make its case without any other stakeholders or the Town consultant present to defend its independent study. We have heard as we have forever heard the same statement that the tower is the only solution. The Commission has made it clear that it does not want the provider of services to make policy or decisions.”
Resident Bob Craft was clearly bothered by the conversation.
“Cell towers are ugly and destroy property values. I resent somebody coming to the meeting and trying to hijack the agenda. We had Sprint 13 years ago and it worked then. We have AT&T and IPads and they work. I am sick and tired of old people with beat up phones their grandkids gave them and they say ‘my cell phone does not work.’ Get an I-Phone.”
The Commission briefly discussed the matter before them.
Commissioner Jack Duncan said he was very uncomfortable because a lot of taxpayers were not present and the issue was not on the agenda and the deliberation had gone on for a half an hour.
Town Attorney Dave Persson said this issue has gone on for four years and having a workshop at a later date made sense.
Brenner said he had known Jimmy Eatrides a long time, but this borders on the outrageous.
“This was abuse in my view,” said Brenner.
Duncan added, “Let’s add to that the fact that the Town Manager has been communicating on several fronts and meetings were cancelled and then we get to see this on this front.”
Duncan was referring to the efforts Town Manager Dave Bullock made to have a lengthy meeting with Eatrides, which Eatrides did not agree to attend.
Commissioner Lynn Larson closed in asking that the Town hold a workshop in September to hear both sides regarding the telecommunications study.
Bullock said he plans to hold a telecommunication workshop for the Commission to discuss the development of a telecommunication policy.