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Cell tower on Donax discussed, tabled until February

By Staff | Dec 8, 2010

Mayor Kevin Ruane, left, offers his congratulations to Sanibel Chief of Police Bill Tomlinson in recognition of his 25 years of service to the citizens of the island.

More than two dozen concerned citizens gathered at City Hall on Tuesday to voice their opposition to a resolution which would have allowed Verizon Wireless to install a 149-foot telecommunications tower at the Donax Street Wastewater Reclamation Facility, despite the applicant meeting every requirement of the city’s Land Development Code.

The four members of City Council, with Peter Pappas excused, heard testimony from Planning Department Director Jimmy Jordan, attorney Laura B. Belflower (speaking on behalf of Verizon Wireless Personal Communications LP) and residents of neighborhoods surrounding the proposed cell tower site during the three-and-a-half hour session.

“This is not a hearing to determine whether the Donax Street Wastewater Reclamation Facility is an appropriate location for a telecommunications tower,” City Attorney Ken Cuyler said prior to Jordan introducing his staff report. “The public may make comment — I don’t want a cell tower, or I want a cell tower — but we aren’t here to discuss the appropriateness of a cell tower.”

According to Jordan’s report, City Council is to consider a development permit application submitted for the construction of a new 149 feet, above ground level, monopole design telecommunication tower with attached antenna arrays and providing a collocation sharing capacity for two additional telecommunications service providers.

The proposed telecommunication support structure includes an equipment shelter to house a Base Transceiver Station, connected via cables to the antenna arrays, an emergency power generator and a 25-foot by 75-foot fenced-in area to contain the tower and ancillary equipment installed on city-owned land located at the Donax Street facility, at 630 Donax Street, which previous councils have approved as “a telecommunications tolerant site.”

Crystal Mansell, left, thanks the crowd gathered at City Hall on Tuesday after she was named Employee of the Year. At right is City Manager Judie Zimomra.

Because the Verizon Wireless application has not completed and submitted all required final engineered construction plans and certifications, staff recommended 36 conditions which must be met prior to approval of the development permit. They include requirements for color of the structure, compliance with FIRM base flood elevation standards, lighting and signage limitations, design and safety standards, vegetation buffer and compliance with Federal Communications Commission regulations for non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation and radio frequency emission levels.

Jordan also noted that it was staff’s recommendation to make the proposed cell tower “as visually unobtrusive as possible.”

Belflower, who stated that she took part in Sanibel’s drafting of Land Development Code requirements for telecommunication towers in 1999 and has assisted in preparing similar resolutions in more than 50 cities across Florida, noted that Verizon Wireless was prepared to meet all conditions as stated in the staff report, although there were a few modifications that might be required.

Opening the floor to public comment, a lineup of residents told the council that they had concerns about several aspects of the application, including why all of the documents had not been completed. Other concerns included the visual impact of the tower, height, radiation and financial considerations.

Gail Greenwood said that she only found out that the resolution would be discussed on Tuesday less than 24 hours prior, which she chastised the city for lacking “common courtesy and respect.”

Fellow citizen John Morris noted one of the staff recommended conditions regarding the tower being “screened from public view to the greatest extent possible.” He suggested camouflaging the structure to resemble a tree, such as a pine or a palm.

Longtime resident Jerry Muench, proprietor of Periwinkle Park, asked, “Can the city guarantee me that they will subsidize me because we can’t rent our facilities?”

“I beg you to think about this,” he added.

Responding to some questions raised during public comment, Belflower noted that the Donax Street site was selected because it was the easternmost city-owned property available for tower construction. She added that camouflaging the tower was also possible, however, a shorter structure would not meet the company’s needs to provide high speed 4G service.

“It’s been 10-plus years since we looked at this, but I’m not sure if we shouldn’t take another look at this site,” said Vice Mayor Mick Denham. “We can do whatever we want, can’t we?”

Cuyler explained that since the Donax Street site was previously designated an appropriate site for a telecommunications tower, the applicant has the right to choose any city-owned property for such a structure.

Denham asked to have additional technical information that addressed some of the concerns aired by the public brought back before the council at a future meeting, including whether a 149-foot tower was necessary. camouflaging the structure, he added, was “absolutely essential.”

“I don’t know what more time will give us,” said Marty Harrity. “This application does indeed meet the requirement of the code.”

Fellow councilman Jim Jennings agreed.

“I don’t know how we can come here today and not pass this,” he said. “Right now, I think we’re obligated to approve this.”

Jennings did suggest whether the city could consider the newly-acquired Lighthouse Park property for a telecommunications tower, noting its distance from the residential population. Cuyler noted that the 44-acre parcel was still under control by the United States Coast Guard, so the city would need to conduct more investigation into whether that property would be appropriate.

Mayor Kevin Ruane, citing his personal experiences with radiation, asked to abstain from any vote on the resolution. He explained that with so many questions left unanswered, “I cannot render a fair, unbiased opinion.”

In 1997, Ruane was diagnosed with brain cancer. He underwent multiple external beam radiations along with an experimental medication known as STI 571. Following a nearly two-year battle, he was told the cancer was in remission.

“This issue hits too close to home for me,” Ruane said, requesting confirmation on questions posed to staff by Denham. He further suggested that the resolution be tabled until the Feb. 1, 2011 City Council meeting, which was unanimously approved.

In other business, a resolution was passed to budget and appropriate $10,634 to reimburse Sanibel Marina for the city’s portion ($15,000, less fines and legal expenses) of dredging the entrance to the Shell Harbor canals in 2007. This budget amendment does not increase or decrease the Fiscal Year 2010-11 budget.

Also, councilors authorized the City Manger to negotiate an execute an agreement with Integrated Fire and Security Solutions, Inc., for $26,001.06 for repair, maintenance and upgrade for the city’s Video System.