Only two days into 2014 and Bradenton Beach commissioners found themselves embroiled in old issues involving a proposed cellular communications tower and a lawsuit filed against the city regarding an agreement with ELRA, the restaurant corporation spearheaded by Ed Chiles.
Kevin Barille, of Florida Tower Partners, submitted easement requests as part of the rights afforded to the company upon an October approval of the land-lease agreement for a cellular communications tower at the public works building, at the end of Church Avenue.
The land-lease agreement was approved by the prior administration, and adjustments to the lease were expected once the agreement was signed and the company began surveys of the parcel.
Barille explained that companies like Florida Power & Light won’t come on the site without a secured lease, so the lease has to come first.
While it was only some technical adjustments to allow fiber installation and power flow to the proposed tower, the mere listing of the cell tower on the Jan. 2 agenda brought out the opposition that appears to be joined by Vice Mayor Janie Robertson.
“I won’t be supporting any vote for a cell tower at that location,” said Robertson, who doesn’t believe enough was done to find an alternative location. “This is going to impact a residential neighborhood.”
Barille said the site is the best location for the eventual carriers as far as coverage for the targeted areas, stretching southward to Longboat Key, northward to Holmes Beach and east toward Cortez.
He said all other locations would leave coverage concerns and could lead to a need for a second tower.
Robertson isn’t convinced and neither are residents who live in the Church Avenue area.
Paul Georges, who resides near the proposed tower location, presented a petition with 70 signatures that he claims are residents, voters and visitors who oppose the cell tower. He believes the former elected officials lost their bids for re-election due to passing the land-lease agreement just weeks before the voters made their decision.
Georges listed several reasons why he opposes the cell tower, but Barille said the reason for the easement requests have nothing to do with the land-lease agreement.
“I’m happy to discuss the concerns raised here, but I’m here for a totally different reason,” said Barille, who explained that certain legal descriptions to the land-lease agreement were expected to allow proper service to the site.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to grant the necessary easements with Robertson dissenting.
Mayor Bill Shearon acknowledged the concerns raised by citizens and pledged to look closely at Georges’ complaint. Shearon scheduled additional discussion for 1 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 9, at a work session with city department heads.
Barille was invited to attend the work session to address citizen concerns, and Shearon pledged to put the cell tower issue to rest as soon as possible, “one way or the other.”
New commissioners: Fresh eyes on lot lawsuit
One of two people suing the city to nullify a joint development agreement between the city and ELRA over development plans at the BeachHouse Restaurant across from city hall broke a long silence at the Jan. 2 city commission meeting.
Jo Ann Meilner has remained somewhat quiet regarding ongoing litigation.
The case has not made much movement within the courts, but with a new commission in place, the aging dispute may find itself back in the public eye.
Meilner agreed with Georges’ cell tower argument and stated other reasons she believes why the voters of Bradenton Beach opted for change on the dais.
“The past commission, on advice of city staff, was encouraged to reject the decisions of planning and zoning,” said Meilner, who was a member of the P&Z that rejected the joint development agreement before later resigning when the matter turned contentious between city officials and P&Z members.
Meilner, along with Shearon, who also was a member of P&Z when the subject became heated, filed the suit in June 2012 with co-plaintiff Tjet Martin, Shearon’s life partner.
Shearon withdrew his name from the lawsuit following his November victory at the polls, acknowledging he was essentially suing himself as the new mayor.
Meilner reiterated the P&Z arguments that the agreement violates the city charter and comprehensive plan. She also called out city attorney Ricinda Perry for comments made at meetings dating back to 2008 that imply the deal with ELRA was already in the works at a time when Perry also was representing Chiles in his business interests.
While Shearon implied he would not get involved in the decision-making process due to his ties to the case, he said it was another issue that “needs closure.”
Shearon suggested a work session be devoted to the joint development agreement and Robertson agreed.
“I think that would be a fair idea,” she said. “There are three people up here with no knowledge of this situation other than knowing it’s a problem. We all need to understand the argument that is being made.”
Commissioner Ed Straight, who has been part of the city’s legal defense process, cautioned against having a public meeting in the midst of ongoing litigation.
Perry agreed and said to have Meilner present her argument to the commissioners in an open setting would be inappropriate without providing the other side of the story.
“So how do we close this out?” asked Shearon.
Perry said the joint development agreement was voted on and approved by elected officials, “and it’s my opinion that once a decision is made, it’s made. The decision on the cell tower and ELRA is a legal decision. I do not prefer to handle city business in that manner.”
Robertson disagreed and said the new elected officials needed to be brought up to speed on the information discussed at prior shade meetings. She said the agreement also has an exit clause that the city could use if the commission deemed in necessary.
Perry said she needed to review the exit clause to evaluate its viability.
Shearon stopped short of scheduling a work session, but said the subject would be raised again, “so we know how we want to proceed. This is another issue that needs a final decision, one way or the other.”