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Date of Issue: April 06, 2006

Holmes Beach postpones cell tower addition

Citing the need for more public input, Holmes Beach city commissioners March 28 held off on making a decision on a request for a special exception by cell phone carrier Metro PCS to add a fourth antenna array to the existing cell tower at the Smith Realtors building on Marina Drive.

Commissioners also wanted more time to study the structural engineering report provided by Harlan Ginn of Metro PCS on the stress another antenna would have on the tower. The commission wants to ensure that the tower can still withstand 141 mph winds as indicated when the tower was originally built in 1997. Ginn's report indicated another antenna would not exceed the structural limits.

Acting commission chairman Roger Lutz said he believed everyone "needs to be heard" on the request, but agreed the commission probably has "no choice" but to grant the exception.

The original ordinance creating the cell tower only provides for four antennas. The request by Metro PCS would add a fifth antenna, but if the company is turned down, under the existing ordinance it could simply build its own cell tower in another location in the city.

Ginn said the structural engineering report has been on file with the city since March 2005, when the company first applied for a permit to add another antenna.

He said Metro PCS is the "newest" player in the cell phone industry and already has 170 antennas around the country, but all of them are "co-locations" on existing towers. On occasion, he said, the company has forgone a tower location because its own engineers have noted that the addition of another antenna would put too much stress on the tower. That's not the case in Holmes Beach, according to the engineering report submitted by Ginn.

Susan Longo of the building department said about 12 nearby residents have come in to look at the plans and were originally concerned that the tower was going to be higher or bigger with the addition.

Longo noted that if the original ordinance had granted space for a fifth antenna, Metro PCS would have no need to go through the special exception process. The tower currently has four antennas, three for private cell phone carriers and one for public use by fire, police and emergency services.

She also said the department gets structural reports on cell towers in the city "all the time" and the owners of this tower are required by ordinance to submit a full structural report at the end of its first 10 years of existence. That report would be due in 2007.

Fine, said Lutz, but he and other commissioners would still like more public input and continued the public hearing until April 25.

He said he hoped more residents and concerned citizens would show up at that meeting to voice their opinion.


Grassy Point

In other business, City Treasurer Rick Ashley gave an update on the Grassy Point Nature Preserve and said the city and the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program have joined forces to clean out the exotic plants in the area as part of "Phase I" of the project.

Funding for the cleanup will come from grants that the SBEP will obtain, he indicated.

Phase 2 of the plan would include creation of an estuary, public access and possible boardwalks and a nature path, he said, but that's in the future. The plan now is just to get Phase 1 completed.

Phase 2 would require an extensive amount of local and state permits and would require "major dollars" to complete.

Ashley said he is continuing efforts to obtain the last remaining privately owned parcels in the area, but noted that previous efforts have been unsuccessful.


Key Royale Bridge

The commission also agreed to authorize Mayor Carol Whitmore to provide the Florida Department of Transportation with an additional $138,000 deposit for the Key Royale Bridge project.

Ashley said the DOT had contacted the city recently to indicate the increase cost for construction is for the construction engineering inspection report, which was done by a private firm, not the DOT.

He said the DOT has assured him there are no more costs to be added to the already $2.95 million project, which should begin this summer and take about nine months to complete, the DOT has said.

The good news, Ashley said, is that the city is slated to get all the money it borrows for the bridge — excluding interest — back in the 2007-08 DOT budget.

The original DOT estimate two years ago for a new Key Royale Bridge was $1.8 million, a figure that has steadily increased as construction costs have risen. The DOT was scheduled to begin the project in January, but changed that in December to "within a few months."


Mayor's report

In her report to the commission, Whitmore said the contractor for the Haverkos II drainage basin is scheduled to start work on May 1.

The city is working with Manatee County to get water meters installed in the Sunrise Boat Basin for individual boat owners to have access to fresh water.

The basketball court adjacent to Birdie Tebbetts Field will be fenced on three sides and court lines painted soon, she said.

Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens said she lives across the street from the court and has been "pleased" to see that it's already being used.

"Kids and guys in their 70s are already out there playing. I think it was a great idea," she said.



Commissioners also agreed not to schedule a meeting April 11 as a number of commissioners will be attending a state conference on hurricane preparedness.