Longboat Key Commission says ‘no’ to cell towers

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In a watershed decision, the Longboat Key Town Commission reached consensus at the Wednesday commission workshop that it does not want to see a cell tower built on Longboat Key, and it wants the town manager and attorney to craft an ordinance to that effect.

The workshop meeting wherein the town commission was slated to consider a new telecommunication ordinance was stopped short when Commissioner Pat Zunz spoke directly against the idea, the prospect, and the method of even allowing a cell tower to be built on the key.

The proposed ordinance stated that an applicant could seek a cell tower with a maximum height of up to 110 feet tall with a waiver for additional height. The ordinance posited a hierarchal approach to approval where an applicant would have to show that other “preferred” technologies that are less intrusive than a cell tower would not be feasible or would cause a “hardship.”

“The community says the preferred solution is not a tower, the Urban Land Institute said to avoid a tower, I would like to see towers removed from this ordinance,” said Zunz.

Zunz added that the town has investigated technological solutions enough to know that a cell tower is not the appropriate solution. She then suggested to the town attorney that removing the last two options for achieving telecommunication solutions be removed, namely the options that allow a cell tower. Town Attorney David Persson responded that he did not want to address the legality of that issue “on the fly.”

Commissioner Phill Younger sided with Zunz and said, “Laws can be written to make it extremely difficult to allow a cell tower. I have concerns that if we pass this ordinance, we’ll end up with cell phone towers.”

At this point in the discussion, Commissioner Jack Duncan asked rhetorically if it would be appropriate to ask for a general consensus on the issue.

“If we decide we do not want cell towers, we can instruct the town manager and attorney to come back with an ordinance. Maybe now is an appropriate time,” said Duncan.

Mayor Jim Brown agreed with the idea and a consensus was reached with Commissioners Younger, Duncan, Zunz, Terry Gans, and Mayor Brown raising their hand in favor of creating an ordinance that would not allow cell towers. Commissioners Lynn Larson and David Brenner did not support the idea.

Mayor Jim Brown commented that he didn’t think anyone on the commission was not in favor of Longboat Key having the best telecommunication system.

“My world would shut down, but I don’t want a cell tower,” said Brown. “Why are we playing around with this? I’ve been dealing with this for 10 years.”

Larson, who did not raise her hand against the cell towers, said she did not want a cell tower that is tall on the island, “I certainly don’t want one next to me. I’m concerned about the legality of outlawing cell towers.”

Brenner framed the issue as one of, “If you want telecommunication, what are you willing to do to get it? I think it’s way too easy to say we just don’t want a cell tower.

Duncan said that the ordinance that staff had given them to consider was not a telecommunication ordinance, it was in fact, a cell tower ordinance.

“We need a long-range strategy for all telecommunications. The technology has improved and I believe the problem has diminished. There are better cell phones and femtocell technology has also helped. I go back to the core values, the vision statement and the mission statement – focusing on the protection of property values. I don’t think there’s a person in here who would say let’s get a cell phone tower on my street, we have incredible natural values…We can get outside help, get someone to help write language to negate a cell tower.”

Duncan added that wi-fi connectivity is a critical element going forward.

After speaking, Town Manager David Bullock said he would return in December with a revised ordinance that would create a methodology for improving telecommunication services that would preclude the development of a cell tower on the key and Bullock added that he would also come back with the legal ramifications of the policy.

Brown said he was heartened with the direction the commission had taken, and that the community he lived in was adamantly opposed to cell towers.

Larson said she was convinced that, “If we prohibit a cell tower we will get a cell tower.”

Bullock said that he was in the vetting process to get an expert to write the rules that are necessary to accomplish their policy desire.

Brown responded to Larson that what she is fearful of has not happened, given the restrictive rules currently in place.

Persson summed up the commission’s decision, “This is a watershed moment, I have a clear direction on what this commission wants to do.”

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