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    Even as flagpole, tower not wanted

    Tarpon Springs' Planning and Zoning Board votes 5-0 against changes that would allow building of a cell tower opposed by residents.

    By KATHERINE GAZELLA

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 28, 2001


    TARPON SPRINGS -- A city board has recommended that City Commissioners reject proposed ordinance changes that would pave the way for a proposed 150-foot-tall cellular telephone tower disguised as a flagpole.

    The city Planning and Zoning Board voted 5-0 Monday night to recommend denial of changes to the city's ordinances that would have permitted so-called "stealth towers" in some commercial areas. The issue arose when Crown Castle International of Tampa applied to build a tower at the corner of Gulf Road and Tarpon Drive.

    Board members said they were swayed by some residents' opposition to the proposal. Some residents said they did not want a cell tower in that neighborhood, and others said they did not want to open up the city to more cell towers.

    "The people did not want it in their neighborhood," said board member Pamela Listle. "We voted how the people wanted us to vote."

    City ordinances do not deal with stealth towers.

    City Commissioner Cindy Domino, a site acquisition manager for Crown Castle International, made a presentation about the tower before the City Commission earlier this month. She said the tower is designed to be as attractive as possible.

    After the denial by the Planning and Zoning Board, Domino said she did not want to comment.

    Crown Castle attorney Laura Belflower said she was surprised by the board's recommendation. All the company wants, she said, is the opportunity to seek permission in the city to construct stealth towers in some commercial areas.

    The Monday night meeting was not about approval or denial of Crown Castle's application to build a tower on Gulf Road, but rather the first step in allowing such a request to come before the city, she said.

    "This step is necessary to even come in and ask," she said. "It wasn't a specific application."

    Even if the change in the city ordinance is approved, she said, every application to build a cell tower still would have to come before the city. Belflower said she will make that point when the issue comes before the City Commission at 6:30 p.m. March 6 at City Hall, 324 E Pine St.

    The City Commission is not bound by recommendations of the Planning and Zoning Board.

    Former Mayor Anita Protos spoke against the proposal out of concern that cell towers will proliferate in the city.

    "When we were first approached on towers during my administration, we heard from residents and we worked very hard to write an ordinance and keep the beauty of Tarpon," she said. "I don't think people want a community of these towers."

    Crown Castle first tried to build the tower at Tarpon Springs High School. Administrators at the school were in favor of the plan, but the School Board has not made a decision about whether mobile telephone towers should be allowed on school property.

    - Staff writer Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or gazella@sptimes.com.

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