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County approves new cell tower codes

MANATEE — A communications company that has a lawsuit against Manatee County for denying its application for a cell tower on a golf course, may be restricted from locating a tower on another golf links.

The Manatee County Commission approved a revision of the cell tower ordinance that could send Vertex Development LLC looking for an alternative site for the 150-foot tower it planned for the Palm Aire Country Club.

The commission voted unanimously for the changes. Commissioners Ron Getman and Larry Bustle were on Port Manatee business in Panama, and were absent from Tuesday’s commission meeting.

“If the ordinance is approved today, it’s effective today,” Deputy County Attorney Sarah Schenk told commissioners. “If an application was filed but not complete, it would apply to that application.”

Vertex had applied for a permit for the Palm Aire location last summer, but it recently asked for a change, so the application was deemed incomplete, county planning department Director John Osborne said during a break in the meeting.

The new codes require cell towers to be located in areas that have the least amount of impact on residents.

The Palm Aire tower would have been within 500 feet of some homes.

Now Vertex will be allowed to put the tower in the golf course only if it cannot find an alternative government, commercial or industrial site.

“The changes in the ordinance add additional protections through a preferred zoning category and a non-preferred zoning category,” Osborne said after the meeting.

He said there are specific criteria outlined that a company would need to meet in locating a cell tower.

First, they would have to look if government property would be a better situation and not affect residents.

The cell tower firm also would need to prove there is a need for a tower in a particular area, such as to fill a hole in the service area that would otherwise create a loss of business.

No representatives from Vertex spoke during the public hearing.

The company has a federal lawsuit pending against the county for the denial of its application for a 150-foot cell tower permit in the River Club subdivision.

Other communication firms, though, did have representatives who spoke at the meeting, and county staff met with them during the lunch break to take into consideration their concerns.

Several residents also voiced their concerns, but most indicated their approval of the changes.

Commissioner Joe McClash questioned how an application could be considered complete when zoning and site plan approvals were not granted yet.

Once an application is complete, the county has to act within 90 days.

Chairwoman Donna Hayes said she was pro-business and did not want to add any more roadblocks to the process.

“The business person has done everything to comply,” Hayes said.

McClash said, “It’s not about the applicant. It’s about the laws and the residents living in the community.”

Schenk said the county was restricted through Florida state statutes on defining complete applications.