An idea for a compromise between supporters of a Temple Terrace bat tower and residents who fear it will be a nuisance was aired during a City Hall workshop last week.
A couple of residents suggested that designing the inside of the 40-foot wooden obelisk to limit the number of bats that can roost in it might solve a lot of the worries.
"It should be very simple to arrive at some sort of compromise,'' said resident Philip A. Levy, an associate professor of history at the University of South Florida.
Though the tower at capacity could accommodate about 600,000 bats, Tim Lancaster, of the Temple Terrace Preservation Society, said it could be adjusted to house far fewer, say, 100,000 bats.
The Temple Terrace City Council is scheduled to take up the issue when it meets Tuesday night.
The original tower, which became a beloved city landmark, stood on the edge of the Hillsborough River from 1924 to 1979, when an arsonist destroyed it. Designed by bat expert Charles Campbell, it was created to provide a home to the voracious mosquito eaters at a time when malaria was still a problem in Florida.
The council had settled on a site in Riverhills Park near the boat ramp, but abandoned that location when residents living across the street complained. During a packed meeting in June, neighbors said they worried about the odor released by glands of the Brazilian free-tail bat — expected to be the main occupants of the tower — and diseases that bats can carry, including rabies.
The city staff has proposed building the tower on one of three sites: farther away from residents in Riverhills Park, or south of there in Scout Park, or in Rotary Park, near Fowler Avenue and Interstate 75. At any of the three sites, the tower would be farther away from residences than at the original spot.
In the workshop, resident Robert Fleming disputed comments by bat tower proponents that the odor from bats is similar to tortillas. Fleming, who said he visited the two bat towers on the University of Florida campus — which together hold about 300,000 bats — described the odor as faintly like that from a dog kennel, a combination of dog body odor and a hint of urine.
"It's not horrifically offensive, but if you were forced to live by it on a regular basis, it would be very nuisance causing,'' he said.
He also suggested that limiting the number of bats might be the answer.
Robert Ruiz, a resident who works as an insurance adjuster, said he feared that bats would roost in houses near it. "Bats can do a lot of damage to homes,'' he said. Also, if they settle in during late spring, they may be there for a while. The law prohibits removing them during the summer, when females are raising their babies.
Others at the workshop spoke in favor of the tower.
"My only comment is I don't want to see people be afraid of this kind of thing,'' said Jan Amerman. "I think it's wonderful.''
Michelle Van Loan said she's all for creatures that eat mosquitoes. She can't wear mosquito repellent because it would affect her asthma, she said. She also pointed out that the tower would not be a magnet for bats far and wide. The bats that would occupy it are already in Temple Terrace; they just aren't all roosting together.
City Manager Gerald Seeber, who conducted the meeting, handed out cards on which residents were asked to write their opinions. The cards will be turned over to council members.
Philip Morgan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3435.