ANNA MARIA – During a discussion of a new cell tower ordinance, commissioners said they want to hear from the public on where a cell tower should be allowed in the city.
According to the draft ordinance, they are only allowed on government property or in areas zoned for commercial or industrial development. But because of other restrictions, City Attorney Jim Dye said the only location that meets all the requirements is Galati's spoil island, but it is in the wrong land use category "You need to write the requirements," Dye said. "It's a policy decision the commission has to work its way through."
In a work session last week, Dye reviewed some specifics of the ordinance that he developed with consultant Rusty Monroe, of the Center for Municipal Solutions.
"It creates a conditional use permitting system for wireless facilities with a hierarchy of preferred sites," Dye explained. "It is heavily dependent on need based analysis.
"Local government has the ability to site towers but can't be so restrictive that it acts as a barrier. The consultant approach is to have the applicant prove the need. It there a hole in your coverage that this facility will fill?"
Dye said height is a big issue, and the draft ordinance limits the height of a tower to 60 feet unless the applicant can prove the need for additional height.
Chair Chuck Webb asked about a fall zone, and Dye said that hasn't been determined yet, but in the city's current ordinance it is 110 percent of the height.
"There's not many properties in the city where there's a radius of 66 feet," Dye noted. "You need to look at whether that's workable because the city is almost built out."
Commissioner Dale Woodland asked if the city should impose a moratorium until commissioners approve the new ordinance. Dye said they could tell applicants that the ordinance in in flux, and that the law commissioners will use to make their decisions is the one the applicants should follow.
Woodland asked about the city's 37-foot height limit, and Dye said only cell towers are allowed to exceed that limit.
'There's nothing in here about revenue," Woodland said.
"That's an issue between the landlord and tenant rather than the regulator and regulatee," Dye responded.
Commissioner John Quam asked if the city could limit the number of towers, and Dye said that's why the need-based analysis is in the ordinance.
"There's an economic incentive for an operator to allow others on the tower, and a new applicant would have prove that what's already in place can't cover the gap," Dye explained.
Providers give input
Mayor Mike Selby said there had been some discussion about eliminating the fall zone requirement because "based on Rusty's experience, the failures are because of the engineering of the foundation. Maybe that's where you need to beef up this ordinance."
Kevin Barile, of Ridan Industries, a company that owns and operates communications towers, agreed and said he has been developing towers for 15 years.
"I've been involved in over 350 to 400 cell towers," he said. "I agree 100 percent with Rusty that the tower failures that I'm familiar with have been because of the foundation.
"Not so much because of the design but because of the construction. The contractor didn't go down far enough or didn't use the proper size rebar."
He added that towers also have many safety factors built into them.
Jim Eatrides, of Alpha Omega Communication, who works with Barile, said the company has entered into a lease with the Community Center for a cell tower and will be preparing an application.
"If you limit a tower to 60 feet, you'll need a bunch of towers," he stressed. "Radio waves do not travel freely through vegetation or structures. You need some height so you can reach the user.
"You need to allow some flexibility in your ordinance so you can end up with a solution that meets the needs of the carriers and the users."
He said they picked the Community Center because it is the right location. He also pointed out that the tower in Holmes Beach is a monopole, but what his company is proposing for the Community Center is a unipole, which is similar to a flagpole.
Webb said the issue with the Community Center is whether it can lease the space to the tower company. Eatrides said Center officials plan to submit a letter requesting to sublease.
Commissioners agreed to continue the discussion at the March 8 work session.