Height of future Longboat light poles still up for debate

Associate Publisher

The focus of the undergrounding project at the commission workshop on Tuesday was choosing the height of the town’s future light poles along Gulf of Mexico Drive and the neighborhood streets.

It would seem logical that taller is better when it comes to lighting, however with the 2015 referendum vote requiring the town to underground the electrical wires in order to make the town more aesthetically appealing and increase property values, commissioners are considering shorter light poles.

Public Works Director Isaac Brownman and Waterleaf President Adam Sewall both presented their findings to the town commission on Tuesday and Brownman gave the commission a staff recommendation of 35 feet for the poles.

Brownman reminded the commission that safety, reliability and aesthetics are the three goals of the light poles and that the commission needs to come to a place of balance on these items.

Brownman began by stating that in 2016, Florida Power & Light (FPL) determined the town’s poles are an average of 38 feet, with some at 48 feet.

“We’re going to recommend a pole height of 35 feet, and the light itself will be at 25 feet and it will be the Cobia style head with a shield,” said Brownman.

Commissioner Jack Daly confirmed that although the pole would itself would be 35 feet, that the light fixture would be at 25 feet, and Brownman assured him it would. The fixture he said would be placed at 25 feet, and the pole would continue 10 feet above that with a small cell on top. Small cell is a box the size of an average laptop according to Sewall, and has several antennae sticking out of the top.

Brownman continued informing the commission that currently there are 281 poles, and the goal is to have less in the future.

Brownman and Waterleaf, which is involved in coordinating the design of the lighting and infrastructure for the town, cannot give a specific number of poles needed for lighting as it depends on the height chosen for the lights. Shorter poles means more poles for cell coverage and higher poles means a fewer number of poles because they cover more area with light and cell service.

In addition to these parameters, Brownman informed the commission that Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) changed their standards in 2015, which created more lighting than the town wanted. The town has to meet FDOT’s new lighting levels, specifically what is required at the intersections and crosswalks.


Service providers and cellular service

Commissioner Ken Schneier also discussed the potential service providers for the undergrounding, and what will also be installed on top of the light poles: a small cell. “As I understand it, there will be a Comcast, Frontier, and other services underground and they’re going to connect to the neighborhoods. The other function of these poles is to have the cell services. The southern end of the island has good service because of the higher buildings with cell towers on top, the north end does not have good cell service, since they don’t have any tall buildings,” said Schneier.

Commissioner Mike Haycock was concerned that if the town builds these small cells on top of the poles, that service providers will not necessarily use them.

“I am concerned about the carriers and if they are going to use this equipment. How do we know if they’re really going to use these small cells?” asked Haycock.

Sewall and Town Manager Tom Harmer informed Haycock that the cellular phone companies do not discuss with the town what they are planning to do with their company in the future, as it is proprietary.

“But we know that this equipment is approved, we do not put things in place that are not compatible,” said Sewall.

Mayor George Spoll pointed out that by putting in the small cell infrastructure the town is subsidizing part of the cost for the cellular service carriers, thereby enticing service providers to the island.


Back to height

Daly was primarily focused on reducing the height of the recommended 35 feet. Daly asserted the cost differential was relatively small compared to the benefit of smaller poles.

“Most people would look kindly upon 25-foot poles,” said Daly. Then he asked Sewall if he could estimate the cost difference for the 25-foot poles.

Sewall reminded Daly if the town chooses the 25-foot poles, there is an increased cost because there would be additional poles, more fiber and more small cells. Sewall estimated the cost to be $2.4 million to go from 35-foot height to 25-foot height, which was within the allotted budget according to Harmer.

Haycock and the rest of the commission questioned how many more poles would be needed if the town went to 25-foot poles, and if that would be aesthetically acceptable. However Sewall couldn’t answer that question until performing a Radio-Frequency (RF) study.

Sewall explained that RF studies inform how much cellular coverage and lighting coverage a particular pole would give at a certain height.

“Why not do an RF test at any or all of the heights, and get a test number and then get the number for the 25-foot height of how many poles? And then we can compare it. I think we need this information to go forward,” said Commissioner Schneier.

“I would like to authorize you to go ahead and look at the two heights and aesthetics,” said Vice Mayor Ed Zunz.

“It seems to me, even delaying for a month or so here might well be worthwhile so we can determine whether it’s okay to go to 25-foot poles,” said Daly.

Sewall assured the commission that Waterleaf will have the RF studies done at both heights in 3 weeks, and then if the commission tells the company which height within 5 days, they could move forward without much delay. Daly felt the commission could decide on the 25-foot or the 35-foot pole height in one commission meeting.

The commission also requested Waterleaf study a lower height for the neighborhood light poles as well. Brownman and Sewall originally recommended a 25-foot tall pole for the neighborhoods, but the commission reached consensus to have the 15-foot pole height tested as well.

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