More than 100 residents attended a meeting at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church Thursday night, viewing Progress Energy's aerial maps and plans for a 275-foot communications tower next to the Sunset Lakes community.
Members of the gated community just off U.S. 41 and north of State Road 54 want Progress Energy to move the proposed site of the tower farther back on the company's 20-acre site. The original plan called for the tower to go up a short distance off Morgan Road, an access road into Sunset Lakes.
"We don't want this on Morgan Road," said Paula Gallagher, a Sunset Lakes resident. "We're concerned about our property values and the aesthetics of what it's going to look like. We can't be sure that they actually will come through with the plantings and the shrubbery, trees and all."
The open forum featured aerial maps attached to easels and charts detailing the plans for the site.
Attendance at the meeting started slow, Progress Energy officials said. About 10 people showed up during the first 1 ½ hours. Just before 6 p.m., the room was filled with those who live in and around Sunset Lakes.
"I thought it was a very good turnout and it's really good to see so many people interested in their community and our project," Progress Energy spokesman Rob Sumner said. "We appreciate the input."
There appeared to be an open dialogue between residents and energy company representatives. There was also a large table in the center of the room with comment forms for people to fill out.
"I think the way they've compartmentalized the various aspects of the entire project will allow us to have a little better understanding, specific to each person's area of concern," said Al Marano, Sunset Lakes homeowner's associate president. "Whether it's construction, positioning, overall safety and the potential impact of (property) value."
Marano and many other residents reiterated their desire to push the tower farther back on Progress Energy property.
Another point of contention was the meeting itself. Some felt if an open house had been held prior to construction, Thursday night's event would not have been necessary.
"And they didn't give us much warning," Sunset Lakes resident Eileen Chappel said. "They sent letters and they started construction within days. They didn't ask for our opinion. They didn't really explain what was going on."
According to Progress Energy, letters were sent to residents July 10 notifying them of the construction slated to begin Aug. 29. Before that, the project was approved by Pasco County officials.
After complaints, work was suspended that day with just one of the concrete footers for the tower poured.
Pasco County Commissioner Pat Mulieri, who represents District 2, which includes the area, made her way around the room talking to Progress Energy specialists and residents. Throughout the night, Mulieri took notes on her iPad.
She, too, felt prior meetings with residents would have helped the matter. She was also impressed with Progress Energy's response.
"When someone complained, they did stop immediately," she said.
In addition to dissatisfaction with the potential for a structure towering over their property, the roughly 145 residents are also concerned about safety during construction. There's a school bus route about 200 feet away.
The new tower, which handles utility communications daily and especially during storms, will replace a similar tower a half mile away at Progress' Denham Substation that was built in 1963. There will also be an electrical relay station next to the structure.
On Thursday, Progress Energy officials unveiled its three-phase project, which is expected to begin in 2013. In addition to the tower, transmission lines will be built to extend from the Morgan Road Substation to one in Hillsborough County. Progress Energy expects that to be a 5.5-mile project.
Another transmission line, less than a half mile in length, will run from Morgan Road to the Denham Substation.
If all goes as planned, construction on the tower will begin in early 2013; transmission line construction will start in the spring of 2014 and the substation will be built in the summer of 2014.
The project could be complete by the summer of 2015.
According to Sumner, Progress Energy will take the feedback received Thursday — from conversations and the forms — and collect online comments, which can be submitted until Dec. 31.
In January, the company will make its decision on the new tower.
At this point, nothing is set in stone.
"We'll start compiling these suggestions right now and then once (the time period) closes, we'll get everything together and make a decision," Sumner said. "We have not made a decision."