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Tampa schools, church make money off cell towers

VALRICO — A church and three eastern Hillsborough County schools are the latest to take advantage of extra cash from cell phone towers during tough times.

Cimino Elementary and the Horizon Christian Church, both in Valrico, are slated to have cell towers in the near future.

Wimauma Elementary has a tower that's not in use, and Mintz Elementary leases land to a provider but has no tower yet, said Linda Cobbe, spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County School District.

Despite growing opposition at Cimino, the school is expected to have its tower built within the next two months, Cobbe said.

Principal Deborah Talley has signed a lease with Collier Enterprises, a company that brokers deals between schools and cell phone carriers.

"They are moving forward," Cobbe said. "And the area director (for the school district) has signed off as well."

Meanwhile, concerned parents and residents are circulating a petition. A group also showed up at a School Board meeting earlier this week to voice their concerns.

"I'm not saying I don't like cell phone towers. We have them all around us," said Cimino parent Louise Bravo, who wrote the petition.

"But they are supposed to be in industrial and commercial zones, not in residential neighborhoods," she said. "For a school to put one up, it's absurd for so many reasons other than health."

Though federal regulators deem the towers safe, Bravo and other parents contend that there isn't enough research to back those claims. And after reading over the contract, she doesn't believe the partnership could be as beneficial to schools as touted.

For schools, the towers could bring in $6,000 to $30,000 a year.

The school district receives 50 percent of revenues from cell towers built on school property, Cobbe said. The school and district then split that amount, with 80 percent going to the school.

It's not clear how much Horizon Christian Church will receive for allowing T-Mobile to place a 150-foot tower on its property on St. Cloud Avenue near Buckhorn Elementary.

The wireless carrier and the church initially wanted a cross-shaped tower, but were approved for a structure that resembles a flagpole.

County records show that the approval is being appealed by Frank Ferlita, a nearby resident who is concerned about potential heath impacts and property values. Ferlita will be heard by the land-use appeals board April 3.

A special use hearing for the Cimino tower has been scheduled for March 16.

Linda Townsend lives in a neighborhood about 450 feet away from the proposed tower at Cimino. She had no idea one might pop up outside her back window until a few weeks ago.

"We had no opportunity to weigh in at all," Townsend said. "My neighbors and I are concerned. We're the ones whose property is closest. Why don't people who live near these things get to have a say?"

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com, or (813) 661-2454.

Tampa schools, church make money off cell towers 02/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 12, 2009 3:30am]
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