Despite Community Pleas, City Council Approves 150-foot Cell Tower
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03/18/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Earlier this week, WMNF reported on South Tampa residents who protested a proposed cell phone tower slated to go up on Henderson Boulevard. Earlier today, Tampa City Council took up the issue in a lengthy public hearing. When all was said and done, those against the project did not leave happy.

The tower will be more than 150 feet tall. It will stand near a bank, a doctor’s office, and the Sunset Park Condominium complex. And the council, despite the more than a dozen people spoke against it, approved it. Councilmember John Dingfelder dissented. He said there were two criteria on which such projects should be judged. The first? Aesthetics.

The second was safety. He said that even if all of the intended safety measures were taken, electrical fires or storms could still spell danger in the surrounding area.

The other dissenter was Council member Mary Mulhern. She also had concerns about the tower’s fit within the surrounding area. Mulhern commented, “Basically, it’d not compatible with the surrounding area…is a business owner or resident of the adjacent area saying that they want this?”

Councilmembers Joe Caetano, Gwen Miller, Tom Scott, and Charlie Miranda voted yes. Linda Saul-Sena, who voted against the ordinance on first reading, recused herself from the discussion. She cited potential conflict of interest involving Clearwire, a company that could benefit from the tower. Opponents of the measure pointed out that Councilmember Miranda also had some outside dealings with a direct stakeholder.

Here’s what he had to say about his relationship with state house candidate Stacy Frank, who happens to be the CEO of Collier Enterprises II, the company that wants to build the tower: “I wrote a check…has nothing to do with the way I vote, and the way I do things, and the way I listen.”

City Council Attorney Marty Shelby says that the Florida Commission on Ethics does not generally consider such cases an ethical breach. But anti-tower activists were quick to pick up on the connection. Cynthia Shelberg, an activist and resident in the nearby neighborhood, wore a bright yellow shirt that said “no thanks, Stacy Frank.” She said things like not allowing the health effects of cell phone towers to be debated makes for a rigged discussion.

In his public testimony, Sunset Park area resident Jim Cloonan said that after seeing so many tower supporters at the ordinance’s first reading, he did a little research, and found some connections between them and F&L towers, another Frank company.

Marlin Andersen, president of the Sunset Park Area Homeowners’ Association, brought photos of Henderson Boulevard with a tower superimposed in the proposed site. He said that such a structure’s impact would go beyond one neighborhood.

Anderson said he was dumbfounded by the city’s decision. “I really don’t understand it…it makes no sense to me.”

Jim Jacob, the property manager of the affected parcel, was one of the few people urging the council to approve the second reading. He said that there is an electrical tower adjacent to his home, and that he’s okay with that, saying “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

City Council could only rule on whether to allow a variance that nearly doubles height limits and curbs the required distance between the structure and its property line. City Assistant Attorney Julia Cole told the council that need for a cell tower should not be a factor. A documentary on the health risks many believe associated with cell phone towers will screen at this weekend’s Gasparilla Film Festival. Its is scheduled for Saturday, March 20 at 11:15 a.m. at CineBistro in Hyde Park.

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