Commissioners Uphold Decision to Block Harden Blvd. Cell Tower

Plans to erect a 110-foot cell phone tower on Harden Boulevard faced a second denial Monday night. City commissioners voted unanimously to uphold an earlier 4-2 decision by the city Planning & Zoning Board to turn down a request by Verizon and 1Source Towers.

Mayor Bill Mutz said the commissioners’ task was to determine whether the Planning and Zoning Board did their job correctly in January by turning down the tower that would have been placed next to Executive Cleaners, 1800 Harden Blvd.

“It has nothing to do with coverage, health, property values,” the mayor said. “That’s beyond the scope of what we’re measuring here. The question is: ‘Did they make the right decision?’ “

In rejecting the proposal, planning board members had said the tower would have been detrimental since it was as highly visible in the community. 

Lawyer Mattaniah Jahn, representing Verizon and 1Source, and several co-presenters spent 75 minutes on a presentation that included various maps showing why Verizon felt the site is the most feasible place to solve phone coverage gaps.

Its plea centered on coverage gaps in the area and “effective prohibition,” which is defined by the U.S. Telecommunications Act as when a government inhibits a provider’s ability to provide service.

“The site proposed was the only site that was available, technically feasible, and least intrusive under the code, given the limitations imposed by Verizon’s network layout and the land development patterns in the area,” the companies stated in their written appeal.

The tower would have been placed in front of the storage building just north of the dry cleaners.

Prior to the late 1990s, the property was owned by Fore Oil Co. and used for storage and distribution of petroleum products, City Planning Manager Teresa Maio said. It has soil contamination as a result that would have to be remediated by the applicant, she said.

Public comments last night included concerns about radio waves, unsightliness, and the preference to endure coverage gaps rather than have a cell phone tower close to homes.

“Lakeland needs responsible technology infrastructure,” resident Marco Aguilar said, “but it needs to be safe and healthy.”

City Manager Shawn Sherrouse echoed Mutz in saying, “The nature of this period is a review of the planning board’s decision and in order to overturn the decision you need to conclude that the P & Z board made a mistake.” In his opinion, they did not make a mistake. 

Commissioner Stephanie Madden said the residents’ concerns were valid and that the city would benefit from more research. She also thanked Jahn for the extensive presentation, which may have illuminated some subjects for further consideration.

Yet she voted to uphold. “There are other sites that might be difficult to obtain, but they are possible, so therefore the P & Z did not wrongly decide against this,” Madden said.

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