Residents fear new street lights will mar Longboat community

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It is no secret that Longboat Key residents will passionately fight any threat to the aesthetic beauty intrinsic to their island.

When Floridays proposed a hotel on the north end that was deemed oversized, letters and angry voices pummeled the Town Commission.

When Unicorp made its first proposal to rebuild the Colony, the residents voted it down and pressured the developer to scale the entire plan to a level befitting the neighborhood.

In fact, Longboaters are so adamant about beautifying their community, they voted to assess themselves $50 million to underground all of the powerlines in the entire community.

That project includes landscaping as well as replacing the existing light poles throughout the town with aesthetically-improved and enhanced lighting solutions.

But last week, scores of residents made clear that they do not in any way want 45-foot replacement light poles on Gulf of Mexico Drive, and 35-foot poles in the neighborhoods.

Originally, throughout the discussion to Underground the community, and what residents have come to believe, is that the Town would be considering more decorative fixtures in neighborhoods, akin to what many upscale communities have today. Instead, the Town at its most recent workshop presented poles that residents say will lead to the industrialization of the community.

“We need to ensure that 15-foot tall decorative lights are installed in neighborhoods, and that attractive poles no longer than 25 feet are installed on Gulf of Mexico Drive,” said resident Henry Smith.

In the presentation by the Town that was made with materials from its consultant, Magellan Advisors, the poles are made of concrete in the case of Gulf of Mexico Drive and have 16-inch diameters with attachments at the top to facilitate wireless connectivity.

This connectivity is part of the town’s plan to potentially use the poles to enhance cellular communication while avoiding the placement of cell towers on the key.

Another use of the poles, according to the town, is to allow the installation of cameras for traffic monitoring or to verify beach conditions. There is no formal plan for the cameras but the potential exists and the height of the poles facilitates such uses.

The light poles will not be replaced in Bay Isles or in Islandside because the roadways are private in those communities.

According to Town Manager Tom Harmer, “We are in an evolving phase of pole options.”

Harmer added that right now the conversation in Town Hall and with the Town’s SMART lighting consultant is to use the 45-foot poles on Gulf of Mexico Drive and 35-foot poles in the neighborhoods as maximum potential sizes.

“The consultant has not come back with a study to say what is specifically needed,” said Harmer.


Constraints and trade-offs

Part of the decision for the Town Commission is finding the best solution within a set of constraining parameters. One trade-off is if the height of the street lights goes up, the number of poles needed goes down. It becomes an issue of do we lean more toward the look of a suburban highway, or do we lean toward pole proliferation?

Another constraint is the desire to include the ability to transmit cellular signals. Again, the effectiveness increases dramatically as the height of the pole goes up.

Harmer said, “If you want truly decorative poles on Gulf of Mexico Drive, the community could end up with 50 or 100 more light poles than if it went with the taller options.”

Another rub is the fact that the town cannot just simply do as it pleases, especially on Gulf of Mexico Drive. Being a state roadway, the Florida Department of Transportation sets lighting minimums that must be met.

The final controlling factor is the budget. The town has a specific amount allocated from the money that it has raised through the bonds to pay for the entire undergrounding project.

“There is definitely a cost constraint and we want to come in at, or under, budget,” said Harmer.

Harmer said that over the next couple of months, the decision on the height and what type of light poles make the most sense will have to be made by the Town Commission. The Town is due to discuss the issue next at its March 19 public workshop meeting.

“Other than the budget amount and the level of lighting required, all of the other factors are still on the table,” said Harmer.

Phase I of the actual undergrounding of the power lines is due to begin before June of 2019, in the vicinity of Country Club Shores.

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