PEOPLE LIVING ON THE BARRIER ISLAND HAVE COMPLAINED ABOUT CELL SERVICE FOR YEARS. TWO COMMUNITIES PROACTIVELY WENT AHEAD AND CONSTRUCTED TOWERE ON THEIR PROPERTY – THE MOORINGS, SEA OAKS AND THE SPIRES CONDOMINIUMS.
No other community in Indian River Shores has wanted a tower on its property, so every few years residents apply pressure to the town council to do the dirty work and get into the cell service business. As a result Indian River Shores recently embarked on a cell tower construction project.
By a vote of four (three from John’s Island and one from The Estuary) to one (from Bermuda Bay) on April 22, 2016 the Indian River Shores Town Council voted to locate and construct a cell tower on Town Hall Property a few hundred feet from homes in Bermuda Bay, despite 90 Bermuda Bay residents who signed petition opposing the location.
Here is some troubling background leading up to their decision.
The town owns 3 parcels of land that have been considered for a cell tower:
1) 4.5 acres about 1.1 miles south of the IRS town hall on the beach,
2) Property at the end of Fred Tuerk Drive (FTD) where an electric substation resides,
3) Land on Town Hall property itself.
Fred Tuerk Dive
There are no homes within 500 feet of the Fred Tuerk Drive site but over 300 within the town hall property.
It was also proposed that an 85 ft. tower on town hall property might be augmented by a similar tower at the north end of John’s Island (J.I.) on private property (Bermuda Bay.)
Property values and quality of life issues have played a role in driving the siting process. In the winter of 2012 -2013, the Indian River Shores town council was considering constructing a tower on property behind the town hall. Using a small portion of the south end vacant lot for a tower was out of the question because the town council didn’t want to devalue the asset. The remaining sites were met with opposition and public pressure from the communities nearest them, effectively ending the discussion.
Fast forward to the summer of 2015 and once again the cell tower is on the town’s agenda albeit with a few new council members at the dais. The decision is made to publish a Request for Proposals from tower builders and a consultant is approved to manage the process. Opposition to a cell tower at the end of Fred Tuerk Drive now includes three – four homeowners from the Estuary and two – three homeowners from John’s Island. Opposition to the Town Hall property includes communities near the site, most notability Bermuda Bay, where the tower would be within 300 ft of homes and their main gate. Specifically, there are 91 homes within a 1,000 ft radius of the town hall and only 23 homes within 1,000 ft of the FTD site.
In September, 2015, the council approved Datapath Towers of St. Petersburg, FL to construct a tower. Datapath proceeded to spend $20,000 researching the best site, tower size and design. By the end of 2015, they had determined the FTD site would be the best location for a 130 ft tower and began the permitting process. Their reasons for the FTD site include: it isn’t in wetlands/floodplain (the TH property is); it is already disturbed with utility equipment; it has ready access to power.
All systems appear to be go and the November council meeting minutes read “… there was a meeting… between a John’s Island resident who lives very close to the proposed site, the John’s Island General Manager and three (three) cell tower company representatives, who, based on their analysis and feedback, agreed that “the most logical place to put it for a variety of reasons is behind the substation at the end of Fred Tuerk Drive. “ The town attorney will prepare a new ordinance for a cell tower to be built to 130 ft since the current height restriction is 50 ft.”
On January 5, 2016 the town announced that plans were underway for a public comment meeting in February but at the January 28 town council meeting everything changes. Although DataPath is well into preparations, Councilman Ochsner (from The Estuary) now questions DataPath’s ethics in selecting the FTD site and suggests the town find an objective firm to determine the best site. Town Manger Rob Stabe explains that an extensive search of J.I. finds that there are no appropriate sites for a tower. Mayor Barefoot (from J.I.) proposes finding a firm and spending $15,000 to study what are now two sites.
Brian Barefoot, center
After months of concern over delays and many saying “let’s move forward, it’s a matter of public safety!” the councilmen all vote to halt everything and hire another consultant. Attorney Michael O’Haire is at this meeting representing homeowners from the Estuary and J.I. and he has already researched and found a consultant to do the job. Also, one of his clients has volunteered to help direct the efforts of the consultant. The Land Trust director is there to express concern for migratory birds at the FTD site. Vice Mayor Weick (from Bermuda Bay) counters that the Audubon Society says nothing about the area being on the migration route. One thing is clear – many folks ironically appear to be on the same page regarding stopping the progress at Fred Tuerk Drive.
One other related vote takes place that day… a new ordinance passes. It raises the allowable height for a cell tower to 135 ft. and includes “Section C” which reads: “That location of a tower of up to 135 feet is placed to have minimal adverse effect on surrounding and nearby residences.”
The town proceeds to hire Cityscapes, Attorney O’Haire’s suggested firm. On March 22, the town announces a meeting will be held in just six days (Monday, the day after Easter), when Cityscapes will deliver its report on the best location for the tower and council will vote on the site. (Things are really moving along now!) That day the town council chambers are standing room only and the Cityscapes representative provides copies of the report and a power point of their findings.
Attorney Michael O’Haire
After entering data about the town terrain and other variables into their computer modeling program, the firm finds that an oval shaped ‘search ring’ defining the best area for cell tower placement just happens to be centered in the middle of Bermuda Bay and includes the town hall property. The ring stops just short of the FTD property. After many questions and heated discussion by all parties, it becomes clear that the consultants were never told about the FTD site but rather the availability of the town hall plot and a nebulous J.I. site – although it had already been ruled out.
Their report states that a 115 ft tower inside the ring would be sufficient. The consultant cannot say what difference it would make to move the tower just outside the ring. He explains height is the most important factor but can’t say if a taller tower at FTD (130 ft as proposed by DataPath) would also be sufficient. It is decided that Cityscapes should go back and consider the FTD site in their search process. The report scope states that Cityscapes will “Evaluate compliance with existing ordinance and regulations” but when questioned about Section C of the new height ordinance – the representative is perplexed and Councilman Slater (from J.I.) declares, “That’s not his job!”
Councilman Thomas Slater
One wonders…by November everyone was tracking on a 130 ft tower at the FTD site and DataPath has a list of technical reasons for the site – why does their credibility and site selection come into question in January? Are there real coincidences or did someone prime the pump for stopping the process and hiring another consultant?
Is Attorney O’Haire just amazingly prescient? Who gave the consultant inaccurate information and how much more will it cost to revise the report? How influential are a few homeowners with deep pockets and their attorney? Who has talked to whom outside of council chambers? Who will enforce the ordinance’s Section C?
What’s troubling is the Town Council may have stretched the town ordinance to make it work against Bermuda Bay. Bermuda Bay had an attorney at the meeting and residents are awaiting his analysis of what their next steps might be.
To summarize, as Paul Knab of John’s Island said at the Council’s January 2016 meeting, “it (was) inappropriate to have a 135 foot tower in an area of high end real estate…and asked if the location could be changed to in front of Bermuda Bay.” Or perhaps as Bermuda Bay will now be dubbed the “low rent district” under the cell tower.