Longboat Flip Flops on Lightning Rod Height Rule, Again

Guest Writer

This past June, the Town Commissioners agreed that lightning rods exceptions should be limited to 12 inches in residential districts. This happened after an outpouring of opposition — 149 complaints and emails — from residential owners against allowing an additional 6 to 16 feet high rods, exceeding the normal 30 feet height restrictions.

At the time, former Commissioner Lynn Larson said, “I was happy that the Mayor and the commissioners listened to the many, we asked that our beautiful island be kept the jewel that it is.”

Many other homeowners agreed with her. Lynn Cook said, “We are delighted that the town listened to the residents on this issue.”

But at the recent September 14 meeting, most of the commissioners seemed to have forgotten what they agreed upon in June.The new proposed rule would allow 6-foot rods in residential districts and doesn’t mention the smaller 12-inch rods at all. The vote was 6-1, with Mayor Ken Schneier opposing.

Mayor Schneier said that he was a little put off because the applicant for the taller rods was a promoter and a salesman who didn’t live in the town.

The lightning rod code change was brought up by John Barber, who sells lightning rods from a shop in Sarasota. He says he has sold 200 rods in LBK, mostly in condo buildings. In the past, the LBK Building Department did not enforce the height restrictions. Barber is applying for Boris Miksic’s home at 640 Halyard Lane in Country Club Shores.

Barber says “this is about the rights of owners to choose how to protect their property. There are 149 complaints about our taller system on the Planning Board site, but it’s all about aesthetics. It’s about, I got mine, you can’t have yours.”

Last June, five LBK Associations hired lightning expert Professor Vladimir Rako from the University of Florida to testify on their behalf at the June Commission hearing. He said, “Tall masts [72 inches]  do not offer any advantages in residential homes over the standard 12 inch high lightning rods”

One expert said that tall masts for lightning rods in residential buildings have been oversold and characterized much of the marketing as “junk science”.

The LBK News surveyed a dozen lightning rod companies that work in Florida, and all recommended the standard Franklin lightning rod, which is only 12 inches tall.

John Barber, the promoter and seller of the tall lightning rods, stressed that this was a “safety issue.”

No doubt Florida is one of the hot spots in the U.S. for lightning strikes.

Even so, the LBK Fire Departmenthave not received any calls in response to a house fire due to a lightning strike in the past five years. In fact, they have only received five calls of brush fires started by lightning strikes altogether.

“They went back on all they had promised us,” said Lynn Larson, President of her Homeowners Association. “I was so disgusted. I begged and begged them not to allow the six feet rods. And they went back on what they said they would do.”

Larson has sought for years to keep to the town’s 30-foot height limit with no add ons or exceptions.“They said the rods are no higher than tv antennas. But nobody uses tv antennas any more.”

“We spent all this money, $4,000, to hire an impartial expert from the University of Florida who told us the science, but they didn’t want to believe the science and wouldn’t hire their own expert. They chose to believe a salesman.”

Last Spring the amendment allowing the taller lightning rods was fiercely opposed by Keep Longboat Special, a 1400 member organization dedicated to preserving the beauty of Longboat Key.

Allen Parsons, head of the Planning Department, admitted that the discussions back and forth were a little “confusing” but that he was working on a rule for the final vote on Oct. 5th.

All existing lightning rods that exceed the height limits would be grandfathered and may remain. Rods on multi-story and  multi-family buildings could also be taller.

Parsons noted that the new version would limit the size of the rods on smaller houses. “Previously, if you had a small house only 15 feet high, you could put up a rod 15 feet higher than that. Now the rods can be no higher than 6 feet.”

The Longboat Key News called the resort towns of Sag Harbor and East Hampton, N.Y.  — two charming towns with stratospheric property values — whose town planners said that lightning rods are not an exception to the height requirements.

Larson asks, “When you look out on the horizon, what do you want to see? Blue sky or a sea of lightning rods?”

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