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Cell phone tower contract almost finalized

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By Kellie Parkin

Cedar Key residents are a little closer to better cell phone reception, as the city commission and Cedar Key Water and Sewer District Board are in the process of finalizing the agreement with American Tower Corporation.   The effort to bring a communications tower to Cedar Key was initiated earlier this year by Commissioner Scott Dennison, who wanted to establish better cell service throughout the islands. The City of Cedar Key sent out a Request for Proposals to construct a cell tower within the City and received responses from Skyway Towers, LLC, and American Tower Corporation.   Both companies proposed placing a tower on the city block where the existing water tower is located. Because the City owns the property, but leases it to the Cedar Key Water and Sewer District in a long-term lease agreement, both the City and the District need to be involved in the negotiations with the tower company, said John McPherson, attorney for the Water District. In August, a selection committee comprised of City and District representatives chose to enter negotiations with American Tower, which owns 19 communications towers in Levy County. Staff from both the District and City have participated in preliminary negotiations with American Tower, and have come up with a draft option/lease agreement and a preliminary site plan with conditions which has been submitted to the City Commission and District Board for final approval. The draft option/lease agreement gives American Tower an 18-month period during which it would have the option to decide whether to enter into the lease agreement with the City and District, McPherson said.  The lease agreement authorizes American Tower to construct the tower on the water tower property.   The option period gives American Tower time to seek cell phone providers which would be interested in leasing space on the tower for a cell phone antennae.  If there is insufficient interest from cell phone providers, then American Tower will not exercise the option and will not enter into the lease, McPherson said. Attached to the preliminary site plan will be a list of conditions spelling out construction requirements such as lighting, design of equipment enclosures, landscaping and buffering. The city commission voted Tuesday night to move forward with the agreement.  Commissioner Dennison described the outbuildings as a miniature community. “It will look like a little village of buildings praying to cell tower,” he said. The tower height will remain below 200 feet, approximately 185 to 190 feet, he said. At this point, American Tower does not think the FAA will require the monopole to be lighted, Dennison said, but official determination will come after construction begins.  Dennison also said he does not expect American Tower to take the full 18 months to find providers. “When they have at least one provider, they will come to the city with a land development plan. And with any luck, by May or June we’ll start to see some dirt turn.” The District Board will meet next week to discuss the matter further and possibly make a final decision, said Jack Hotaling, the District’s General Manager.   “We’d like to get some public input,” he said. “We know that probably 90 percent would like better cell service out here. What we’re concerned about is something unsightly.”  Eventually there could be as many as six or more accessory buildings on the property for the different cell phone companies, he said. “We want to require certain architectural treatment for these buildings so there is continuity.” The Cedar Key Water and Sewer District Board meeting will be Monday, Nov. 9 at 5 p.m.