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Vote to pursue tower angers homeowners

(ran PC edition)

A heated war of words is unfolding in the Eagles, pitting homeowners against the developer and members of the subdivision's master association.

The dispute involves a 150-foot cell tower that T-Mobile would like to build just off the golf course. The cellular provider would camouflage the tower as a white flagpole.

In addition to the usual concerns about aesthetics, property values and health risks, dissenters in the community say developers have handled the matter undemocratically.

The frustration came to a head at the Oct. 13 annual meeting when the master's association voted 6-3 to pursue the tower. Two of the votes were cast by William Lambos and Teddy Lambos _ the son and wife, respectively, of Eagles developer Peter Lambos.

"I went to the meeting . . . convinced we have no way of passing this," said homeowner Amy Spitznagel, a full-time mother. "It became clear to me that what I as a homeowner wanted didn't matter."

The debate has raised questions about whether the powerful master association, which oversees development and maintenance of the Eagles, is in the right hands. Eagles Ltd., the development company, currently chooses the association board members. Both the bylaws and state regulations provide for the developer to eventually pass control to the homeowners.

Homeowners and the developers are eagerly awaiting an analysis, due in January, of the issue by board lawyer Robert Tankel.

At one point, the cell tower proposal seemed dead. Eagles Ltd. and T-Mobile backed away from a deal early this year in the face of an aggressive petition drive.

But the idea gained new life this summer when the Hillsborough County Commission passed a new cell tower ordinance. County rules now make it easier for applicants to bypass the public hearing process if they submit plans showing they will camouflage a cell tower's antennas and equipment structures.

T-Mobile, the first company to seek administrative approval from Hillsborough's Department of Planning and Growth Management under the new rules, saw an opportunity.

The tower, which would have a 20- by 40-foot base area to house electronics equipment, is far from reality. T-Mobile has no deal with Eagles Ltd., and the county is seeking more design information from the cell phone provider, planner Brian Grady said.

But William Lambos, managing partner of the Eagles Ltd., shared some specifics last week.

Eagles Ltd. is considering a 5-year contract with T-Mobile with an option to renew, he said. The nation's sixth-largest service provider would pay the market rate, about $1,800 a month. But the real money lies in attracting other cell phone companies eager to expand service in the Eagles area, Lambos said.

For example, five companies paying $1,800 a month would generate $9,000 a month _ $108,000 a year _ for the developers.

"The advantage to the Eagles Ltd., of course, is it would generate some revenue," Lambos said. Eagles Ltd. has offered to donate a quarter of the annual revenue to the master association, he said. What's more, "the reception in the Eagles is notoriously bad and we wanted to improve it."

Lambos says that even without his family's votes, the board would have approved the tower. And that point is moot, he said, as the county's new cell tower siting rules do not require the owners to consult with residents.

In August, opponents convinced the master association to delay another vote on the tower so each community representative could poll their homeowners. While some did, others did not, including Adrianne Sundheim, community association president for St. Andrews, the second-largest community within the Eagles.

Opponents criticized the vote as undemocratic. "Residents . . . should have the opportunity to vote for this or against it," said Tom Keller, president of Canterbury Community Association, the largest neighborhood in the Eagles. Keller, who is also a master association board member, voted against the cell tower.

However, Lambos and T-Mobile spokeswoman Laura Altschul say the results of an open house survey in the Eagles shows the tower has strong community support.

Opponents say the successful petition, along with the incomplete polling of communities before the Oct. 13 meeting, is proof the jury is still out.