Within the year, Anna Maria visitors and residents may have improved cellphone service in the city.
If the cell tower comes to fruition, it will have taken Anna Maria 12 years to contract and construct a cell tower. Discussion on a tower began in 2002, when current Mayor SueLynn was serving her first term.
Commissioners at their Jan. 23 meeting unanimously approved the land lease to construct the cell tower at city hall to Florida Tower Partners LLC of Bradenton.
The impetus for a cell tower was renewed by former Commissioner Gene Aubry, who said last year lack of cellphone service is a safety issue in times of an emergency.
Lack of cellphone service in the city has been a common complaint, particularly in recent years, as cellphone usage has increased and people have abandoned land lines, Mayor SueLynn said.
Jim Eatrides of FTP has estimated it will take his company 7-9 months to get the necessary permits before it presents a site plan and begins the review process, which includes obtaining building permits from the city.
“We have to get Federal Communication Commission approval because Anna Maria is in a flood plain,” he said.
“But I can say that AT&T and Verizon would like to be on the tower tomorrow. They call me every week asking about the Anna Maria tower,” Eatrides added.
FTP will use the signed lease and commitments from wireless carriers as collateral for a mortgage to construct the tower.
Eatrides told commissioners he’d like to tell the major carriers that the lease would be signed within two weeks.
However, upon unanimous approval by the commission, Chair Chuck Webb said the lease could be signed that evening.
“Then we’ll call the carriers tonight and give them the news,” Eatrides said.
Commissioner Carol Carter was concerned that the tower base conform to the surrounding architecture, but Webb said those issues will be discussed in the permitting process.
The tower will be hidden from the public as much as possible, Eatrides said.
“We’re ready to get moving,” he added.
In other business, commissioners approved an application from a group of residents on Cedar and Mangrove avenues to trim non-native vegetation and sea grapes in city property fronting their homes at Gulf Front Park.
Sam Pakbaz, the group spokesperson, said they have been trimming the non-native vegetation for years, and now want to work within the recently adopted landscaping plan for Gulf Park.
Commissioner Doug Copeland, who spearheaded the park’s master plan, said this would be a “test case to see if the plan works.”
Arborist Marc Ebling, who has done work previously for the city, is in charge of trimming at the park and public works supervisor George McKay will oversee the project.
Commissioner Nancy Yetter asked McKay and Mayor SueLynn to ensure oversight.
“I’ve been burned before by volunteers doing work and they ended up doing much more than planned,” Yetter said.
That won’t be the case in Gulf Front Park, Ebling assured the commission.
Copeland congratulated the group for working within the Gulf Front Park plan and co-operating with the city.
“Good job, guys,” he told Pakbaz and his wife, Julie, Martin and Kathie Bloom and Dan and Beth Riley.
“We’re fortunate to have residents paying for work that the city can’t afford. Otherwise, nothing would get done,” Copeland said.
Commissioners also heard the first reading of an ordinance to reimburse Rex Hagen $50,000 and Pine Avenue Restoration $9,769. Those were the amounts due back to the two parties for work at the vacant city property at Pine Avenue and North Bay Boulevard.
The donations were withdrawn after the commission reversed a June 2013 decision to allow parking at the park.
When the donations are returned, the city becomes liable for the estimated $40,000 in work already performed at the park and $10,000 to replace electrical panels, said building official Bob Welch.
Commissioner Dale Woodland was concerned about where those funds could be found in the budget, saying he opposes taking from the reserve fund.
Welch said if the city halts special events at the park, the electrical hookups would not be needed.
“But they are in bad shape and need to be replaced if we have more events at the park,” Welch said.
Woodland asked city treasurer Diane Percycoe to search through the budget to find items that could be used to pay Hagen, PAR and the vendors who performed worked at the park.
A second hearing on the repayment plan will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13.
Welch introduced the first hearing of a new flood protection ordinance that complies with guidelines established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Florida Building Commission.
He said the city’s ordinance is more stringent, but flood protection ordinances in Florida must be essentially the same.
Without a new ordinance that meets FBC and FEMA standards, Welch said the city could lose its flood protection rating and all mortgages in the city would be void without flood insurance.
“So there’s really nothing we can do but pass this ordinance,” Webb said.
The deadline for submission is March 17. The commission also congratulated city clerk Alice Baird, who attended her final commission meeting after 14 years with the city. Baird is retiring Feb. 11.
SueLynn said that a reception for Baird will be held 2-5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31, at the Studio at Gulf and Pine, 10101 Gulf Drive. The event is open to the public, she said.
Turner retires from P&Z board
Anna Maria planning and zoning board chair Tom Turner submitted his resignation from the board to Mayor SueLynn.
Turner cited his declining health as his reason.
Turner has twice been the P&Z chair, and has been involved with planning and zoning and other city issues since the 1980s. He was first elected to the P&Z board in the early 1990s, he said.