Talking is out. The cell tower is in.
Since January 2012, the city of Bradenton Beach has hosted multiple public meetings on the construction of a cell tower.
Public meetings, planning and zoning board hearings, presentations and city commission discussions have taken place. Opposition during the first year of meetings was scarce and the first few work sessions on the tower — as many of the early decisions were vetted and made — were virtually unattended by the public.
Opposition appeared later and some were hopeful that a new makeup of commissioners on the dais would be able to change what had been put into motion. However, one of the final acts of the previous commission under former Mayor John Shaughnessy was to approve a land-lease agreement with Florida Tower Partners, a cellular communications company.
The agreement virtually sealed the process, moving it from a proposal to action taken.
Attempts to protest against the tower now pop up every time something related to the cell tower appears on an agenda. To give the public one last chance to be heard, Mayor Bill Shearon scheduled another presentation Jan. 9.
But Mary Solik of Doty Solik Law in Orlando, attorney for Florida Tower Partners, said the city was wasting its time.
“I’m actually a little concerned about the characterization that this is still being called a proposal,” she said. The agreement with the city, she added, is “legally binding. It’s not a proposal. Most of these issues were fully vetted by the commission, P&Z, your cell tower consultant and within an ordinance. These issues have all been set. That ship has sailed.”
Citizens, however, spoke against the tower and asked questions that some claim have never been officially answered from the dais.
Jo Ann Meilner asked again about the city charter provision that states an ordinance is required to lease or change the use of city property and John Reed questioned the tower’s listed height as being well beyond what the charter allows.
Solik said those issues also were settled.
“The height issue raised is something I can put to bed right now,” she said. “We always submit a request to the Federal Aviation Administration for a little higher than we intend to construct for potential air safety. Sometimes a crane extends beyond the height of the tower during construction. It’s for clearance, not height.”
She said the other matter pertaining to the height in the charter only applies if a structure is habitable, which a tower is not.
Solik also said any notion that the city is violating its charter is untrue. She agreed that the charter states an ordinance is needed to change the use of city property, but she added, “You did that. You approved an ordinance approving the lease.”
Solik suggested the city move forward with its obligation of leading the community and being good stewards of public money.
“Any decision to back away will lead to litigation,” she said. “The only people that will benefit are me and Ricinda Perry.”
Vice Mayor Janie Robertson, who opposed the tower’s location before she was elected in November, said Solik was mixing words.
“The intent of the charter is clear,” said Robertson. “In May, we had a telecommunications ordinance that did not violate the charter. A separate commission decided they didn’t like it and wanted to change it. In changing the cell tower ordinance, they put in language that violates the charter.”
Robertson said Solik’s attempt to interpret the charter is “parsing words. We are talking height restrictions — period. No one here has the authority to re-interpret the charter.”
Solik said a valid, duly elected governing body was in office for the past two years.
“Appeals for those decisions made have long passed and now you are in an enforceable contract with Florida Towers,” said Solik. “I hear a lot about there are different commissioners now. You take action as a city, not as these four commissioners or those two commissioners. The majority rules and that is the action moving forward.”
Not all public comment was against the tower. Miriam and David Rayl spoke in favor of the tower, saying they have poor cellphone reception. David is a double-lung transplant recipient and misses important test result calls, while Miriam fears being unable to reach 911 in an emergency.
David said he can’t imagine anyone in 2014 who doesn’t want to see progress.
“Why would someone want to eliminate what someone else can use and benefit from?” he asked. “Just from the police, fire and medical standpoint it is appropriate to do this. Why wouldn’t you want that help? There’s no logic to that.”
Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said she stands behind her vote to approve the cell tower.
“We are in dire need of a cell tower in Bradenton Beach,” she said. “I was pleased to vote for it and would vote for it again. It’s done and we should move forward.”
Commissioner Jack Clarke agreed, saying it was time to put the matter to rest.
Shearon said the issue has seen due process whether he agrees with the tower or not. He suggested that the city must move on, but citizens have one final option in organizing a citizen petition referendum.
In the meantime, Shearon asked for a consensus to close discussion on the cell tower.
“To keep going over it doesn’t do any good for anybody,” said Shearon. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m looking for a consensus that this issue is closed unless a petition comes before us that binds us into pursuing it.”
Commissioners were unanimously in agreement.