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Cell tower policy change debated

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

The Longboat Key Planning and Zoning Board considered changes last Tuesday to cell tower policy as well as the zoning codes affecting the Hilton property.

Ironically, the two issues were conjoined in a single resolution, but the board quickly separated them stating it wished to discuss further the cell phone policies, but favored and passed along to the Town Commission code changes that will allow the consideration of a Hilton redevelopment application and the addition of tourism units that have been requested by the applicant.

 

Proposed cell tower language

The proposed change in cell tower policy staff suggested is that the town exempt personal wireless facilities in the Comprehensive Plan from any height restriction within any zoning category in which such facilities are contemplated.

The suggested changes would make any language controlling the height of cell towers not governed by existing limits to building heights or the Comprehensive Plan, but governed by to-be-newly-crafted land development regulations.

The staff report in its analysis says the current policy of the town violates federal and state law. The new approach would “strengthen the regulations and more clearly define the communities desires as to the location and development of wireless facilities,” wrote Planning and Zoning Director Robin Meyer in the staff report.

Meyer wrote that the purpose of the proposed language change is to “reintroduce personal wireless facilities to the Comprehensive Plan and then to declare that the heights of the facilities would be controlled by the Town’s Land Development Regulations.”

Meyer goes on to interpret that these changes are necessary to be in compliance with state and federal law.

At the meeting, resident Larry Grossman asked Meyer if wireless facilities were going to be allowed in all zones. Meyer responded that the town was in the process of developing new regulations for cell towers and that “It will expand cell towers into other zones.”

Grossman countered that we presently have wireless service and meet the constraints of the telecommunications act without cell towers on Longboat Key. At that point, Planning and Zoning Chair BJ Webb who uses a timed alarm to make sure no resident speaks more than the allotted three minutes, signaled Grossman’s time was up when the alarm went off.

Board member George Symanski clapped when Grossman departed from the podium. Sarasota Attorney Michael Furen, who has represented residents opposed to a cell tower, said that the draft language proposed by staff does not reflect the policy adopted by the town commission at an October workshop last year.

Board members Symanski and Walter Hackett asked the town attorney why they were considering a change to cell tower policy in the comprehensive plan in the same resolution as changes to the Hilton zoning district.

Town Attorney David Persson said, “They were put together for purposes of advertising.” And said that splitting them apart is an option. He then suggested the board discuss both issues and if there was a concern then they could split it, but to at least discuss the matter first. The board immediately decided the split the two measures.

Symanski then took issue with the language Meyer wrote in saying, “I do not agree we are in violation of state or federal law.”

Persson replied quickly, “This is an issue (cell towers) we need to address as soon as we can.”

Symanski said he disagreed with the clarity of writing and language in the ordinance construction. Symanski said its like “a chef started whisking and frothing up a cell tower policy language on the fly.”

Persson said the draft language states the town will specifically exempt wireless facilities from height restrictions.

After a short amount of discussion, the majority of board members requested that the cell tower language be re-drafted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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