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River Club set for battle over cell tower plan

RIVER CLUB — Historically, River Club residents have quietly tended to their business and not made much news. They have been happy to leave newsmaking to their larger next-door neighbor, Lakewood Ranch.

That’s certainly the case with pioneer newscaster Fulton Lewis III, who broadcast on the Mutual Radio Network for 14 years after the death of his father, Fulton Lewis Jr., himself a Mutual newscaster for more than 30 years.

It’s also the case with Greg Gallagher, a retired pharmaceutical scientist who spent 35 years in the business.

“People don’t move to River Club to get into fights,” Lewis said Monday.

But the two men find themselves at the center of a battle against a 150-foot cell phone tower that has been proposed for their community.

Gallagher is chairman of the River Club Cell Tower Committee. Lewis serves on the same committee as communications chairman.

They say that plans by Vertex Development LLC to put the tower, disguised as a flagpole, in River Club has generated the biggest controversy in their community’s history.

“About 98 percent of the people are on our side,” Lewis said.

Cell tower opponents plan to present a lengthy petition to Manatee County officials when a hearing is scheduled for changing zoning at River Club to allow the tower.

“We have literally nearly 1,000 people who are opposed,” Gallagher said.

Members of the committee are going door-to-door in River Club to get more signatures. They say one of their biggest challenges is that tower plans were filed with the county in the summer, when many people are on vacation or away from the area.

“We sort of half-expected they would do this because a lot of people are out of the area,” Gallagher said. “We all moved here because we didn’t want towers or light poles, and now this is essentially being forced on us.

“Should the rights of a telecommunications company prevail over an entire community?” he asked.

Many River Club residents received an e-mail bulletin Monday from the cell tower committee.

Residents say they oppose the tower because it would be a blemish on their community, would open the floodgates to other towers, and would drive down property values.

The cell tower proposal has generated “widespread bitterness” throughout the community, according to the latest bulletin, which asks for help in the petition drive and for residents to attend governmental meetings where the decision will be made by the busload.

Vertex officials have previously said the tower location near the River Club clubhouse would best serve the needs of local residents, and putting it elsewhere would not be as desirable for vendors.

Miles Gentry, the planner for the cell tower request, has until Wednesday to file his comments with the commission on the project, the Herald has reported. Gentry did not return a call for comment on Monday.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, cam be contacted at 708-7916.

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