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New consultant puts cell towers on hold

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 11, 2001


DADE CITY -- A couple of cellular tower companies have had their first brush with Pasco County's tower consultant, hired last month to scrutinize the proliferation of the steel structures.

The companies wouldn't recommend the experience to their friends.

High Point Tower Technology Inc. and Crown Castle International Inc. expected Pasco this month to approve their towers, 255-foot steel trellises proposed near Dade City.

But consulting engineer Arthur Peters dashed their plans, recommending the county deny the tower applications unless the companies proved the need for added cell phone service in east Pasco.

High Point and Crown Castle representatives complained at Wednesday's Pasco Planning Commission meeting in Dade City. The meeting was the last stop before the applications went to county commissioners for a vote later this month.

"We wouldn't be spending a couple hundred thousand dollars on a tower if there wasn't a need," said John Hubbard, an attorney from Dunedin representing Crown Castle. "It would be an insane thing to do."

Based on Peters' recommendation, the planning commission postponed consideration of the two tower requests until February, a move that upset the tower companies.

The companies want the structures approved before county commissioners vote on a 90-day freeze on cell tower applications. That vote could come as early as next week.

County attorney Robert Sumner said the county has yet to determine whether previously submitted applications -- High Point and Crown Castle applied in October -- would be exempt from the ordinance.

"It's anybody's guess," Sumner said, adding that commissioners are still split over whether to freeze tower applications at all.

The tower companies argue that the freeze, not to mention the last-minute critique from the tower consultant, is unfair.

When they applied for their towers, no such oversight existed in Pasco. Crown Castle said it has already spent at least $40,000 on its project.

"Nobody ever asked us for it, not even once," Hubbard said of the consultant's demand that Crown Castle prove a need for cell phone service.

The commissioners hired Peters in December, arguing that county staffers didn't have the technological knowledge to evaluate the cell tower requests that have flooded Pasco the past year.

Commissioners, particularly Pat Mulieri and Steve Simon, hope the consultant, working within the 90-day freeze, can suggest ways to make towers less obtrusive, perhaps disguising them as trees.

Mulieri has said she doesn't want companies to take advantage of the county's ignorance to burden Pasco residents with ugly, unwanted towers.

Pasco's criticism of the two tower requests predated talk of the moratorium, however.

In early November, the county's Development Review Committee, noting that the towers would be less than 2,000 feet apart, asked the companies to collaborate on a single tower.

High Point has proposed a tower between State Road 52 and Smith Road, 1,660 feet south of Crown Castle's proposed tower at SR 52 and Hobbs Road.

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