Longboat Commission finally sends strong signal it works for community, not cell tower shills

Editor & Publisher

The worst moment of the worst nightmare is when you try and wake yourself up and you cannot. For some reason the dream will not release you. You pinch yourself, kick your legs, shout and scream and the dream envelopes you and your awareness is still captive to horror. Kind of like being a Yankees fan this year.

For me that horror was sitting through a decade watching the Town Commission as if they were seven inchworms crawling across a picnic table wondering which way will they go on cell tower policy. Will they approve a tower? Will they ban towers? Will they water down codes and laws? Will they encourage forward-thinking technologies? Will Gene Jaleski inspire them with ideas or alienate them with Google searches sprinkled with accurate data and innovation and then spun in a centrifuge along with criticism and caustic commentary?

All of the above kept spinning around and around our community cell tower policy debate as if the record needle got stuck at various intervals for a year and then skipped to another direction.


Ending the manipulation, automanipulation

This week that nightmare ended. And we owe it all to the clear conclusions and strong leadership of a majority of our Town commissioners.

Here is what happened:

Five of the seven sitting commissioners told the Town Attorney and Town Manager in clear and certain words that they want rules written that will not allow a cell tower on Longboat Key.

And let’s name the names of those who spoke out strongly. First is Commissioner Pat Zunz. Zunz has steadily added volume to her statements over the past few meetings that she does not want a cell tower on the Key. But this week she directly said she wanted to take that possibility off the table and out of the cell tower ordinance under consideration.

It was as if clarity and vision and property values and community values suddenly came to the forefront and the smarmy manipulations of cell tower advocates and the automanipulations of cell tower attorneys and industry experts came to a grinding halt. And then suddenly, as the philosopher Giambattista Vico would have said, the Town Commission — and hence our community policy — experienced a true ricorso.

Jack Duncan gets a lot of credit. First of all, Duncan helped institute the hierarchy of looking to protection of property values as a core value in this community. And at the meeting this week he asked if it was time the Commission take a vote and let the attorney and Town Manager know exactly where they stood on the cell tower issue. And that is what happened.

Let’s not forget Phil Younger. Younger is a close reader of law and ordinances and knows how the so-called hierarchical approach could fast become window dressing for a cell tower. The planning and zoning board had diluted the ordinance to the point where they asked for a waiver approach to allow additional cell tower height if needed. Younger is someone who when he is fed up with the games makes it known.

And Terry Gans raised his hand against cell towers. Gans took the time to get to a comfort zone in realizing that there is no threat legally under the Telecommunications Act in a community that allows DAS and small cell systems and rooftop antennas and seeks to control its skyline and residential zones by not permitting towers.


A call for real telecommunication plan

The fact is that cell providers already enjoy a complete market and complete coverage on the Key. Those with cell phone issues either are using one of the inferior carriers, have an old phone or do not understand that their homes will not allow cell phone signal penetration and that can be corrected with a femtocell available by their provider.

And kudos to Mayor Jim Brown. Brown said he is dedicated to finding the most comprehensive and very best telecommunications solution for Longboat Key — but that solution he said is not a cell tower.

As Duncan later added — Longboat needs a real telecommunications strategic plan — not a cell tower policy cloaked as one. Duncan hit he nail on the head. We need a comprehensive approach to telecommunications that is forward-thinking and recognizes that WiFi and internet data conveyance is central to what is coming technologically.


Not all brothels, nor cell policies, are equal

Only two Commissioners, Lynn Larson and Dave Brenner, did not raise their hands in support of taking cell towers off the list of options for Longboat Key.

Larson was the voice of fearmongering and continued prostrations before the cell tower advocates and tower-building industry. She used the logic that if we do not allow them, we will likely get one so let’s leave them in the ordinance. And then she had the audacity to say, “I certainly would not want one near my home.”

And Vice Mayor Dave Brenner did not want cell towers out of the running either at this point. Perhaps he fears the visage of a challenge by a tower company or does not believe other technologies make sense for our Key or that we already meet the legal threshold of the Federal Telecommunications Act. But it can be seen as yet another nod and bias toward poorly regulated commercial activity at the cost of aesthetics and property values. Again, not all commercial activity, not all tourist destinations and not all tourists are equal. Casinos, Heidi Fleiss and shipyards are all economic activity — none of which make sense for Longboat Key. Neither do cell towers.


Watch your knees

Longboat Key avoided a bullet with this cell tower ordinance. I trust our attorneys and manager come back with a hierarchy that does not include cell towers as directed by the Commission. I hope they do not come back with hatched arguments predicated on the fear mongering of lawsuits from cell phone tower and signal providers. Anyone can send a $300 letter of intimidation.

And for the Commission: Keep up the good work and make sure that the bullet that was dodged in protection of our community does not turn into a boomerang with the intent of cutting your clear policy at the knees.

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