Two applications for cell phone towers headed to county

One of the towers is planned for the Tower Road Branch Library property.


Published: Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 8:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 10:49 p.m.

Separate proposals for the construction of two cell phone towers, including one on the Tower Road Branch Library property, are expected to go before the Alachua County Commission in upcoming months.

In the wooded, undeveloped west end of the library property, T-Mobile has applied to construct a 130-foot tower.

Approximately nine miles to the northwest, Jacksonville firm TowerCom has proposed to build a 199-foot high tower on a nearly seven-acre homestead at 14806 NW 36th Ave., with Sprint as an anchor tenant.



Representatives of both T-Mobile and TowerCom say the towers are needed to improve coverage in the area. David Boeff with TowerCom, which is seeking to develop its 18th tower site in the county, said that company's new tower would bridge a more than six-mile gap between tower sites along the County Road 241 corridor.

For the Alachua County Library District, the T-Mobile tower at the Tower Road Branch Library, 3020 SW 75th St, would generate revenue.

It's been more than two years since the district put out a request for proposals seeking companies interested in locating a cell tower at either the Tower Road library or the Millhopper Branch. The library district's Governing Board, comprised of two county commissioners, two Gainesville city commissioners and a School Board member, approved a lease agreement with T-Mobile for the Tower Road site in January 2009, said Sol Hirsch, library director.

Since then, the company has paid the library district $1,200 every six months to maintain the lease, Hirsch said. After the tower is built, the library district will receive $1,300 a month in base rent and an additional $200 a month for every additional antenna below the three on the top level, Hirsch said. In a time when governments are looking for ways to generate revenues, that could bring in up to $3,100 a month, he added, which could be reinvested in the library system.

The arrangement would not be unique for Alachua County. The school district, for example, receives $13,000 a year in a lease agreement involving a cell tower that has stood at the Diamond Sports Park since before the district purchased the property, district spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said.

Several residents along Southwest 81st Street — a narrow residential road west of the Tower library lined by large, wooded homesteads — are concerned about the proposed tower. For residents Elizabeth Scott and Virginia Chow, there are health concerns about the electromagnetic radiation from the towers.

"As a taxpayer, I resent the implication that the county library system will make money off something that is potentially dangerous to me and my neighbors," Scott said. "I don't think anyone has proven to me that there won't be a problem."

Chow said there also is a concern that the tower could have a negative effect on property values in the area. She voiced frustration that, in the past, development has been approved nearby over residents' opposition.

"I feel somehow that what we say doesn't really matter," Chow said.

When it comes to opposition to a cell tower for health concerns, it indeed may not. Federal law prohibits local governments from denying cell tower applications based on the potential for health concerns, said Missy Daniels, senior planner with the county Growth Management Department. That prohibition tying local governments' hands is rooted in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Ann Brooks, a spokeswoman with T-Mobile, said that the "overwhelming consensus of the scientific community" is that cell towers do not pose a health risk due to the height of the antennas and the low power emissions.

On its website, the American Cancer Society stated that, based on the low energy level of radio frequency waves, their long wavelength and the height of tower antennas, "most scientists agree that cell phone antennas or towers are unlikely to cause cancer."

Both cell tower applications are scheduled to go to the county's advisory Planning Commission on Jan. 19 but Daniels said T-Mobile is expected to request a continuance until February.

Contact Christopher Curry at 374-5088 or chris.curry@gvillesun.com.

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