Reaction to the two presentations on a cell tower made April 8 to a committee formed by the Anna Maria Island Community Center executive board was swift.
Anna Maria resident Hal Badger said it sounds like a cell tower at the community center is a “done deal.”
With both presenters recommending a minimum 90-foot-high cell tower, Badger claimed that’s above the maximum height of 37 feet allowed in the cell tower ordinance. He said he spent a morning reading the ordinance passed in 2003 by the city commission.
And if any cell tower is approved for the center, Badger recommends the revenue go to the city because the center is on city property.
Former planning and zoning board member Bob Barlow also expressed concern about tower revenue.
He supported the need for better cell phone coverage in the city, but noted that he also is a taxpayer.
“Does the existing lease agreement with the city allow for a sub-lease to a telecommunications company unrelated to the recreational component of the city comprehensive plan?” he asked.
Barlow also wanted to know if revenue from a cell tower at the center would belong to the city because the community center is on city property.
Mayor Mike Selby said residents Jane Powers and Jamie Walstad came to his office to discuss the center’s cell tower presentations.
The mayor said the women were adamant that the cell tower ordinance not be changed to accommodate the carriers. He said he told Powers and Walstad that he doesn’t have a vote on the commission, and it’s up to commissioners to amend an ordinance.
“We have an ordinance and if (commissioners) follow that, everything should be fine,” Walstad said.
“My fear is the ordinance would be changed with a few words to accommodate the cell tower people,” she said.
In 2002, Walstad was an opponent of a proposed cell tower at Roser Memorial Community Church and was instrumental in the city eventually adopting a cell tower ordinance and master wireless services communications plan.
Selby said he had several phone calls about the issue, and was somewhat surprised at the reaction.
He explained that the city commission several months ago directed him to contact cell tower operators to determine if any were interested in providing a cell tower in Anna Maria.
The commission directive came as a health and safety issue because several people told commissioners they were unable to reach 911 for emergency services unless they took their phones outside a structure.
Three cell tower companies expressed an interest in the city, Selby said.
After looking at possible sites for a tower, the mayor said all three indicated “the best site was the community center,” he said.
With that information, Selby said he directed the carriers to center executive director Pierrette Kelly.
“I did what my bosses instructed me, and I’m not involved in any cell tower. Until an application is presented to the city, there’s nothing more to be done.”
Selby said he gave all three companies a copy of the city’s cell tower ordinance for review.
“It’s up to them to determine if they can work with our ordinance. If they can, I guess they will apply, but for now, there’s nothing more for the city to do. We don’t have any applications.”
The mayor did note that he’s been hearing more from supporters of a cell tower in the city than from those opposed to a tower.
Cell tower representative James Eatrides of Alpha-Omega Communications was at the April 8 meeting and said it would take 12 to 18 months to get all required approvals and a tower constructed and operating. The tower construction would only take about three months.
Both representatives at the center meeting said the latest cell-tower technology allows for towers that look and function like a flagpole.
“When people on the Island hear ‘cell tower,’ they immediately think of Holmes Beach. This tower looks nothing like Holmes Beach,” Eatrides told the center committee. All the antennas on his company’s proposed tower are housed inside the pole, hidden from view, he said.
At the city commission’s April 14 meeting, Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick suggested the cell tower issue be placed on the commission’s April 28 agenda for discussion and public input.
Webb agreed. “This is an important issue,” he said, and indicated the city needs to be sure of its process if an application is presented.
Since the city adopted its wireless facilities/cell tower ordinance in 2003, a number of companies with different types of cell towers and technology have made presentations to the city commission. While many of those representatives talked about an application, none have yet been submitted.