Final order denies Palm-Aire cell tower plan

MANATEE — A county hearing officer has made it official: There will be no cell phone tower in the Palm-Aire neighborhood.

Bradenton attorney H. Hamilton Rice Jr. issued a final order denying a proposal by Vertex Development LCC to place a 150-foot tower at Palm-Aire Country Club.

It’s a victory for 1,077 Palm-Aire residents who signed a petition against the tower, saying it would spoil the neighborhood’s appearance and lower property values.

“We are obviously thrilled with the denial and relieved that the magistrate agreed with our arguments, respected the county’s recommendation and, most importantly, applied the new land development code judiciously to this case,” said Deborah Chapman, of Palm-Aire Homeowners Against the Tower.

In February, the county strengthened its cell tower ordinance to require companies to prove there are no viable alternatives before building on a residential site.

The final order came eight days after Rice issued a notice of intent that indicated he would reject Vertex’s lease, first signed in December 2008 with the Palm-Aire Country Club board. Vertex had five days to respond to the notice but could not sway Hamilton.

Vertex now has 30 days to file an appeal in the court system.

“The applicant failed to establish the need for placement of a personal wireless service facility within this well-established residential community,” Hamilton’s final order read.

“Testimony from qualified Realtors, and other lay witnesses, established that property values in the community would be adversely affected.”Vertex attorney Lauralee Westine was not available for comment Thursday at her Palm Harbor office.

Hamilton held public hearings Dec. 15 and Jan. 12. He heard from Palm-Aire residents who opposed the cell tower, proposed for 5625 Whitfield Ave. A smaller group of Palm-Aire residents supported the tower to improve cell phone service and provide additonal funds for the country club.

Westine insisted the company could not find another non-residential site for its tower.

It has been a tough month for Vertex in its efforts to get a cell tower erected in Manatee County.

On Jan. 3, a federal judge sided with the Manatee County Commission in a lawsuit brought by Vertex after the commission denied a permit for a cell tower at the River Club community.

Chapman said the Palm-Aire decision proves that “with the power of their collective voices and a good dose of persistence, people can stand up against money-motivated forces and protect what they believe in.”