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Date of Issue: May 13, 2009

Bradenton Beach signals interest in cell tower

A map of current communications towers in the area.
A monopole on Cortez Road, which is not proposed for Bradenton Beach.
A unipole, which is proposed for Bradenton Beach.

Bradenton Beach officials signaled interest May 5 in allowing the construction of a cell tower near the police headquarters.

But the project, proposed by Ridan Industries, remains in a preliminary stage, with a number of approvals still required at staff, planning board and city commission levels.

J. Kevin Barile, president of Ridan, and James Eatrides, CEO of Alpha-Omega Communications, presented a proposal for a tower to Mayor Michael Pierce and Commissioners Bob Connors and Bob Bartelt. Commissioners Janie Robertson and John Shaughnessy did not attend the meeting.

At the conclusion of the presentation, the commission approved a limited motion authorizing Police Chief Sam Speciale and building official Steve Gilbert to send a draft lease agreement to city attorney Ricinda Perry.

“The city, for a while, has been trying to get a cell tower in the area,” said Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale, who introduced Barile and Eatrides to commissioners. “We have terrible coverage.… In some areas, there is no coverage at all.”

Speciale said the poor coverage creates headaches for residents and visitors, but is a safety issue for emergency personnel.

Currently, the nearest towers are on Marina Drive in Holmes Beach, Cortez Road in Bradenton and Gulf of Mexico Drive on the south end of Longboat Key, offering the best service to customers within a mile. The only carriers with antennas on towers on the Island are Alltel and Nextel, according to a map provided by Ridan.

“You are a long way from a tower,” Barile said.

The county has explored placing a tower on the bayside of Coquina Beach and a proposal exists for a tower on Perico Island, but Barile said Bradenton Beach’s best option is to allow a tower at 403 Highland Ave.

That way, he said, the city improves its communications services and makes money through a lease agreement with Ridan.

Ridan is a third-party owner and operator of cell towers, which means that the company builds and maintains the towers, but leases space on the structures to communications companies such as Verizon and T-Mobile.

“I’ve done hundreds of towers across the U.S.,” Barile told commissioners.

Ridan has built a number of towers, including stealth structures that look like church crosses, trees and flagpoles.

For Bradenton Beach, Ridan is proposing a unipole — with a radius of 3 feet at the top and a radius of 5 1/2 feet at the base that would be white, gray or blue and would conceal the antennas. Antennas are on the outside of the more common monopoles.

Because of wind concerns on barrier islands, Eatrides said a tower disguised as a pine tree “would look like the biggest fake Christmas tree you’ve ever seen.”

Barile showed commissioners a series of photographs taken from various locations in Bradenton Beach in which a 150-foot unipole was super-imposed at the proposed location. The photos made the tower as unobtrusive as a mast on a sailboat.

He proposed a 50-year lease in which the city would provide Ridan with about 1,900 feet of ground space to erect the tower and related components, and Ridan would pay the city the greater of $24,000 a year or 25 percent of gross revenue. Ridan also would cover the costs associated with building the tower, estimated at $350,000.

“We think that’s a pretty good return,” Barile said, adding that the tower could be operating by next April.

City building official Steve Gilbert said the construction of a tower would be classified as a major development that requires a review and recommendation to the city commission from the planning and zoning board.

“Where it is proposed, it is an allowable use,” Gilbert said.

At the end of the presentation, Pierce said, “I’d like to entertain a motion,” and eventually the commission authorized city staff to send the lease agreement to the city attorney for review.

But Bartelt emphasized that more discussion and questions would follow.

“I think this is something that is going to bring forth a lot of interest from the community,” he said.

A scheduled discussion on hiring a planning consultant was postponed until May 21 due to the absences of Robertson and Shaughnessy.

“I feel it is important to have a full quorum for this choice,” Pierce said.

In March, after receiving two bids, the commission had voted to re-advertise for a planning consultant to help with updating the city’s land-development code.

Commissioners want to work with a planner to fold proposed comp-plan amendments into the land-development code. The city, under Florida law, is required to update its land-development regulations within a year of submitting its revised comp plan to the state.

Alan Garrett, a consultant in Anna Maria, and ZNS Engineering in Bradenton both had submitted bids in the first round.

After re-advertising, the city received bids from LaRue Planning and Management Services and Wilson Miller.

In addition to working on the LDC, commissioners are looking for a planning consultant who might work on a long-term basis with the city and assist with ongoing planning department services.

The request for bids sought planning and consulting professionals to bid on a contract with the city “to assist with the tasks associated with the preparation of a comprehensive update to the city of Bradenton Beach Land Development Code following the evaluation and appraisal update to the city’s comprehensive plan.”