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Date of Issue: June 17, 2009

Cell tower plan under review

A plan for a proposed cell tower near the Bradenton Beach Police Department.
A rendering of what a proposed unipole near the Bradenton Beach Police Department might look like to someone standing at Bridge Street and Church Avenue.

Members of a Bradenton Beach advisory game played a short game June 8: Spot the cell tower.

ScenicWAVES committee members studied photographs of the city’s central district, taken from different locations and altered to show a cell tower imposed near the Bradenton Beach police station.

In a photo taken from the east end of the Cortez Bridge, the tower — a white unipole — appears as a tall mast just to the southwest of the bridge.

“There it is,” said a committee member.

In a photograph taken at Cortez Road and Gulf Drive, the tower stands out, appearing as a slim white rod shooting toward the sky.

“There,” said another committee member.

In a photograph from Gulf Drive North and Ninth Street, the tower appears to blend in with the mix of utility poles.

“Is it there?” a committee asked.

“No, oh, there,” said another.

Ridan Industries’ point in submitting the photographs?

The company maintains the cell tower it is proposing, which may generate about $24,000 a year in revenue for the city and should improve communications, is not imposing.

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale reviewed the aesthetic elements of the project with ScenicWAVES. A more detailed review, as well as presentations for other possible systems, was scheduled to take place with city commissioners on June 15, after The Islander’s press deadline.

Speciale told ScenicWAVES that Bradenton Beach probably will get a cell tower regardless of whether the city leases land for one near the police station.

“The county is putting up the safety complex at the beach,” the chief said, referring to the marine rescue headquarters planned for Coquina Beach Bayside. “They are planning on putting up a cell tower.”

“The city is going to have a cell tower here,” Speciale continued. “If we don’t do it, and we don’t dictate how we want it done, the county is going to do it.”

Ridan did not bid to construct a tower at the marine rescue headquarters and instead asked city officials to consider leasing city property at 403 Highland Ave. for a tower, which would be about 150 feet tall. 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.

City building official Steve Gilbert has said zoning at the site would allow for a tower, but it still would be a major development that required a comprehensive review by the city planning and zoning board, as well as the commission.

Speciale reviewed photographs of the proposed tower — a unipole rather than a monopole, which is the type of tower in Holmes Beach.

“That’s the one we don’t want,” Speciale said, referring to the monopole. There are a number of differences between the two, but the most obvious is the antennas are placed inside the unipole, not anchored on the exterior.

Speciale has endorsed the tower for two primary reasons — improved communications, including for the police department, and city revenue.

“The computers in our cars have aircards. On the north end, they don’t work at all,” he said.

ScenicWAVES committee member Connie Drescher asked about the health impact of a tower.

“You’d have to hug the tower for a while — at the top,” Speciale said.

After Speciale addressed the committee, Longboat Key Commissioner Gene Jaleski made a presentation, questioning the need for a tower and promoting a DAS system that requires the placement of small antennas on utility poles about every 2.8 miles.

“You don’t have to have a cell tower if you don’t want to,” Jaleski said. “Why have a cell tower at all if you don’t have to?… You do have, under Florida law, the right to say we don’t want cell towers at all.”

The nearest towers to Bradenton Beach are on Marina Drive in Holmes Beach and Cortez Road in Bradenton.