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Will cell service be a late holiday gift for Shores?


Is this the year residents of Indian River Shores get a delayed Christmas present sometime in the New Year in the form of a cell tower?

The Shores Town Council is moving forward with a variance from its 50-foot height limit on structures that would make the planned new cell phone tower conform to town’s building code.

A new town ordinance to lay the legal groundwork for the construction of the cell tower, which would end years of complaints by residents and officials about inadequate cell phone service in the area, was first introduced at a town council meeting last week, and was not expected to face any major opposition because of the groundwork laid by town staff at community meetings.

After passage of the new ordinance exempting the tower from the current height restrictions, the initial plans for the tower will be sent for review to the Indian River Shores Planning, Zoning and Variance Board.

 The new proposed town ordinance allows for a tower up to 135 feet, provided that all of four of the following conditions are met. They are:

• That the Town determines that a serious deficiency in coverage exists thatcan only be corrected by adding cell tower coverage.

• That the Town determines that the height needs to be increased over the 50-foot level to obtain reasonable coverage within the Town.

• That the location of a tower of up to 135 feet is to have minimal adverse effect on surrounding and nearby residences.

• That location of a tower of up to 135 feet in height has coverage advantages for the Public Service Department of the town.

Apart from a determination by town officials that all four conditions have been met in this case, the existing building code would still prevail for all other planned structures. “No tower shall exceed 50 feet in height (including antenna) when free-standing, or 40 percent over the building height when placed on top of buildings,” the proposed ordinance states.

The Shores has been working with Datapath Tower, a St. Petersburg, FL-based company specializing in commercial and public safety communications towers, to plan and permit the tower.

One or more 85-foot towers were considered, as were “stealth” towers disguised as a flag pole or a palm tree, but after analyzing all the pros and cons of the less obtrusive towers, the Town Council agreed that the best course of action would be to erect one 130-foot tower with the capacity to host up to six different carriers of cellular phone and data service.

The Town Council insisted that lease agreements with Verizon and AT&T, the two most popular providers among residents, be nailed down as soon as possible, and those negotiations are in the works.

Datapath has been contracted to construct the tower and to negotiate leases with the carriers, while the Town will receive a portion of the revenues.

The next hurdle was to settle on a site. Several sites were being considered, including the Town Hall property, the Public Safety Complex property and a location at the end of Fred Tuerk Drive known as Bee Gum Point. Residents of the Bermuda Bay subdivision mounted opposition to both the Town Hall and public safety sites, complaining a tower there would have a detrimental effect on their property values.

After a public workshop was held with officials from Datapath, the Town Council and a packed house of Shores residents and interested parties, the town determined that the Bee Gum Point site near the electric substation was the preferable location.

Stabe said he has received a number of calls from residents in John’s Island and The Estuary who are not pleased about the Bee Gum Point location, but there have been no threats of litigation as of yet.

The next step, after passage of the building code change on a first reading, would be a public hearing before the Town’s Planning Zoning and Variance Board. Town Manager Robbie Stabe initially had said he was hopeful that could happen in December, but now it is expected to take place in late January or possibly February.

Should the plans presented pass muster with the planning board, the proposal would then go before the Town Council for final approval.