CARROLLWOOD — What could have been a long fight over a cell phone tower at a school has ended — at least for now.
Jim Porter, attorney for Collier Enterprises II, informed Hillsborough County officials last week that Collier is dropping its appeal over a tower site at Buchanan Middle School.
In January, land use hearing officer James Scarola ruled against the 160-foot tower, saying it might not be needed, would create an unpleasant view and would not fit in with a future land use plan for the neighborhood near Lake Magdalene.
Collier, which is controlled by state House candidate Stacy Frank, appealed the ruling. Collier contended the project met all requirements for a special use permit and that both state and federal law limit local governments' power to stop cell towers.
Porter's March 19 letter did not offer any explanation for Collier's latest move, and a homeowner who opposes the tower said she did know what to make of the development.
"We're very happy that this appeal has been withdrawn because it takes some of the pressure off," said Ellen Vaughan of Woodbriar Village. She, her husband and their homeowners association have spent about $5,000 on legal fees, experts and court reporters in their campaign against the tower, she said.
At the same time, Vaughan said she does not know if Collier will try again later. "We are cautiously optimistic that there will not be a tower behind the fence," she said.
Tower opponents said they believe politics are becoming a factor. Not only is Frank a candidate who could be affected by backlash from homeowners and school parents, but School Board member Jennifer Faliero is facing opposition in her bid for re-election. And, based on the controversy surrounding recent decisions, Faliero is having second thoughts about current school district policy, which allows Collier to lease school land to cell companies to raise money for the schools.
"Our core mission is education," Faliero said. "We have to look at revenue streams. But perhaps we have to think about how we place the towers. The school district has to be good neighbors and good partners."
Faliero denied she was motivated by politics, pointing out that the antitower movement is based in South Tampa while she lives in east Hillsborough. She said she simply believes the divisiveness is unhealthy.
"When you have 300 people calling a school and picketing a school and its principal, the school does not need that," she said.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4602.