Suit over rejected cell tower is over,

Manatee County says

Article Courtesy of The Herald-Tribune

By Dale White

Published July 9, 2015


MANATEE COUNTY - Having prevailed a second time in the case, attorneys for Manatee County consider a five-year legal battle with a telecommunications company over the denial of a cellphone tower at the River Club golf course to at last be over.

“I think we're done,” said Chief Assistant County Attorney Robert Eschenfelder, who successfully defended the county's rejection of the tower in federal court.

Vertex Development could still appeal the ruling by U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich, Eschenfelder said. “I would highly doubt that they would... I would be shocked if they got any traction” from the appellate court.

Mary Solik, an Orlando attorney representing Vertex, declined to comment. "I have a policy that I don't talk to the press," Solik said.

After Kovachevich ruled against it in 2011, Vertex filed a motion for reconsideration. Kovachevich recently ruled against the company again, issuing what Eschenfelder regards as a “more legally rock solid” opinion with the “benefit of subsequent land use law.”

A federal judge has ruled for a second time in favor of the Manatee County Commission's 2009 denial of a proposed cell phone tower at the River Club golf course.

In December 2009, the County Commission voted 6-1 to deny a 150-foot cell tower on land Vertex leased from the River Club golf course. With Commissioner Larry Bustle dissenting, most commissioners agreed the tower would violate an open space requirement in the site plan for River Club, a 946-home suburb south of State Road 70 and just west of Lakewood Ranch. They said that land use approvals for River Club granted from 1985 to 1989 allow “an accessory use” at the golf course — but that use would have to be related to golf, not telecommunications.

The River Club Homeowners Association, a separate organization from the golf course, opposed the tower. More than 1,000 residents signed a petition against it.

Approvals for River Club were “site-plan specific,” Patricia Petruff, attorney for the homeowners association, then told the commissioners. “The golf course is to remain a golf course in perpetuity as open space. Perpetuity means forever.”

Kovachevich's ruling also took into account River Club residents' objections about “visual impact” based on aesthetic grounds, the appearance of the community in which they chose to buy their homes.

In February 2010, as a result of the River Club case, the County Commission decided that before a cell tower can be approved in neighborhoods in the unincorporated area, the company wanting to erect the tower must prove no other sites nearby are suitable.