Cell towers attract politicians

Source: Tampa Tribune
Date: 02/25/2010
Cell phone tower opponents might get some political help in their fight against new structures.

State Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa, and state Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, said they would be willing to consider ways to restrict where towers are built.

Several North Tampa residents raised concerns Tuesday night at a town hall meeting with the lawmakers. They said too many towers are placed on school campuses adjacent to residential neighborhoods.

"The schools are just building these towers next to homes without any consideration to what they do to the neighbors who have to live next to them," said Lee Vaughan, who lives near Buchanan Middle School, which wants to accommodate a cell tower.

The debate over towers on school campuses has raged across Hillsborough County. In recent months, parents have fought tower proposals at Buchanan, Pride Elementary in New Tampa, Coleman Middle in South Tampa and Cannella Elementary in Carrollwood.

Opponents say the towers create health risks and are aesthetically unpleasing.

"This is becoming a very popular debate across the state," Crist said. "I think we have the ability to bring this to a higher level of discussion."

Ambler said he understood the homeowners' frustrations.

"I would be absolutely livid if I heard there was going to be a cell tower in my neighborhood," he said.

Ambler encouraged the residents to use grass-roots tactics to get their voices heard by local governments.

"If you don't fight for a seat at the table, you're going to be on the menu," he said. "The community needs to become activists."

He noted that the tower could pose public safety concerns and affect property values, though both lawmakers said they would need to do more research.
Crist said his staff would research creation of bills that could restrict tower placement. Local governments have limited power to restrict towers because of Federal Communications Commission regulations.

Mike Meiczinger, a resident, also had a problem with setback requirements. Towers are required to be set back one foot for every 4 feet of tower.

"That's not far enough to protect the homes near these sites," he said. "If these towers fall, they'll crush our homes."

Schools like the towers because they are a source of revenue. Cannella Elementary could receive up to $350,000 during the contract period of its tower, which could accommodate up to six carriers.
Crist and Ambler said the approval of a percentage of neighbors should be required for the towers to be allowed.

"The schools are desperate for dollars and are proceeding without concern for what it's costing the community," Ambler said.

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