It was as close to standing room only as the Bradenton Beach City Hall chambers can get for an Oct. 18 public hearing on a proposed cellular communications tower.
Public comment was unanimously opposed to both the construction of a cell tower and the location near the city’s public works facility, which is at 400 Church Ave.
Residents of Church Avenue, close to where the tower will be built, were united in opposing the project.
Paul Georges said the proposed tower is five times taller than any other structure in the city and, while he found the presentation informative, he disagreed with the concept.
“I feel Bradenton Beach is a special place to live and hope it continues to be so,” he said. “The question is, do we really need a cell tower? I live less than 100 feet from where it will be and I feel there are toxic issues at the site, as well as being a safety concern to pedestrian, bike and car traffic. It should be a safety concern to the city, too.”
Georges said commissioners should be good to the citizens, “not just to businesses and private interests.”
The proposed tower will be 150 feet high with a base foundation that is 60 by 70 feet. The structure will begin at the southeast corner of the public works building and stretch east toward the marina and south into the city parking lot, although only one parking space is expected to be lost.
Kevin Barile of Florida Tower Partners said the only way to improve cellphone service in the city is to build the tower.
“It’s quite well known that there is poor cellphone service in this area,” he said.
A Verizon representative agreed, saying there are 134 dropped calls recorded every day within the city.
But call numbers didn’t sway the opinion of those who spoke against the tower.
Residents near the proposed site said property values will decrease and cited safety concerns from a tower collapse, as well as cancer concerns from radiation.
Barile said the tower is designed with a collapse point, “in this case, 30 feet, so it only needs a 30-foot fall zone clearance. All of the equipment is inside the tower, so nothing will fly off the structure in winds in excess of 115 miles per hour.”
Cell tower consultant Art Peters, who has spent more than four decades as an engineer, said there are no structural or health concerns associated with the tower.
Health questions are something “I’ve been asked a thousand times,” said Peters, who explained the Federal Communications Commission sets the health standards based on criteria established by an international organization that includes doctors.
“The FCC sets the level of radiation below anything else they can set, and not even Congress can counter those standards,” he said. “A lot of people are fearful of radiation, but radiation from a cell tower is not like anything that hurts your body. It’s more like a toaster. It’s not ionizing radiation.”
Commissioner Gay Breuler said it was her understanding that local government has no authority to consider radiation transmission, because there are no dangers to consider.
Peters said Breuler was correct.
Breuler said the city can help residents by ensuring there will be as much landscaping and other measures to disguise the structure’s base and her suggestions came with a motion to approve the permit.
That wasn’t enough for other speakers, however. Carl Parks, chair of the Scenic Waves Partnership Committee, said the city ordinance repealed by the commission “did a much better job protecting the public” than the new ordinance.
Jo Ann Meilner agreed, saying every issue raised by those speaking was addressed “in the previous ordinance you people gutted.”
Tjet Martin, campaign treasurer for mayoral candidate Bill Shearon and one-third of a group suing the city over a joint development between the city and Ed Chiles, along with Shearon and Meilner, said the public has not had enough time to vet the process.
The city has conducted multiple public meetings regarding the cell tower, but Martin said the public should have been able to meet with the consultant, too.
Other nearby residents said they had only just learned about the cell tower, although meetings dating back to January 2012 were noticed and reported in the media.
Janie Robertson, former Ward 3 commissioner and a candidate to regain her seat, said she agrees with the concerns expressed by the citizens. She also said she’s asked the city several times about seeking an alternative location.
“All I’m ever told is ‘There is no other location,’” she said.
Robertson suggested the First Street city parking lot as an alternative, although it would mean losing parking spaces.
While city officials and staff have said there are no alternative locations, they admitted they were unsure if the First Street parking lot had been researched.
However, Barile assured commissioners every alternative location had been sought out and that the best location for the best service is near the public works building location.
The planning and zoning board recommended approval of the permit Sept. 23, but added stipulations, and commissioners agreed with some P&Z concerns and dismissed with others.
Stipulations for landscaping and some type of buffer around the base were accepted in the motion made by Breuler, which passed unanimously.