City Council will revisit Long Hollow radio tower

  • November 11, 2015
  • /   Shannon Nickinson
  • /   community-dashboard

Back in August the attention was on the furor over City Administrator Eric Olson’s call to Melanie Nichols’ boss about her use of work email to correspond with the city officials.

Now the focus is turned toward what Nichols was asking the city about back in May in the email that seemed to spur this summer’s controversy. The Pensacola City Council meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 12 in council chambers at City Hall. See the meeting agenda here.

Nichols believed then that the reason Olson called her employer was linked to her complaints about the renovation of a radio tower in the Long Hollow drainage basin.

On May 14, Nichols emailed the mayor, city councilmembers and the city administrator asking the city to terminate the lease agreement with Divine Word.

Melanie Nichols’ May 14 email

From: Melanie Nichols

Date: Thu, May 14, 2015 at 10:01 PM

Subject: Radio Tower in the Long Hollow Storm Pond

To: Mayor Hayward , [email protected], Brian Spencer , [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]

Cc: Mark Abramson

Dear Mayor, City Council Members, and City Administrator,

I respectfully request that the City Council terminate the lease agreement with Divine Word Radio Inc. for use of the Long Hollow Storm Pond area for the placement of their radio broadcast tower.

This area is in a Conservation District which allows for use as a storm water pond (which our City desperately needs) and this zoning does not allow for non-conforming structures to be expanded, enlarged, or replaced, which Divine Word is planning to do when they replace their 125 foot tower with a 400 foot tower. As I have stated before you at Council meetings, the EXISTING tower which was built prior to the 1990's when the property was changed to Conservation District, was allowed to be maintained, but NOT enlarged or replaced. Once you adopted those changes to the Comprehensive Plan, the tower and all its outbuildings, became a non-conforming structure. The issuance of any construction permits for replacement of the existing tower are in direct violation of the Comprehensive Plan. This Conservation District was in place years prior to the renewal lease agreement that Council made with Divine Word Inc. in 2012. I believe that a grave error was made in 2012 when Public Works brought this lease agreement to the Council since it was in direct violation of the City Council adopted Comprehensive Plan.

(From the Comprehensive Plan)

Conservation District: The Conservation Land Use District is established to

preserve open space as necessary for protecting water resources, preserving scenic

areas, preserving historic sites, providing parklands and wilderness reserves,

conserving endemic vegetation, preventing flood damage and soil erosion. This

future land use category shall apply to environmentally sensitive areas identified

on the Future Land Use Map and protected from development pursuant to site

plan review. The following generalized uses are permitted:

(a) Wildlife and vegetation conservation:

Wildlife refuge, nature trails and related facilities

(b) Recreational facilities:

Passive recreation

Bike trails

Jogging trails

(c) Other similar and compatible conservation and recreational uses:

Boat moorings, fishing piers, drainage areas, etc.

The radio tower with all its outbuildings and guide wire supports is preventing the expansion and dredging of this area of the City-owned pond for increased capacity which is needed in our community. The recently published Long Hollow Storm Water Basin  Report that was commissioned by the City after the April 29, 2014 flood determined that our Long Hollow pond is NOT meeting its 25-year storm requirements, much less the Mayor's recommended, and City Council approved on May 14,  increase of capacity from a 25-year storm to a 100-year storm capacity.

This City owned land is vitally needed for an expansion of the Long Hollow Pond which is our City's largest pond and our first line of defense to prevent flooding in Long Hollow, North Hill, Seville, Aragon, and hundreds of Downtown businesses and employers that we depend upon for our city's economic success and growth. As a City Council, you have sought and received expert engineering advice and have received the Long Hollow Storm Water Basin Report which outlines the needed repairs and added capacity that must be put in place to meet the minimum requirements.

Fortunately for the City as a whole, you have the ability to move forward with our storm water improvements because you CAN cancel the lease agreement. Divine Word Radio, Inc. is in violation of their lease agreement with you because they have sub-leased space on the radio tower to Omni Broadcasting, LLC, as you will see in the attachments that I have provided from the FCC.  This additional equipment, for a different licensed radio station (not owned by Divine Word), was never approved by City Council for placement on the tower as required by the Lease Agreement.

Please cancel the lease. It is NOT in the best interest of thousands of citizens who pay storm water taxes and own property within the Long Hollow Storm Water Basin, and depend on that pond to function at its maximum capacity to prevent the future flooding of homes and businesses.  It is not in our City's best interest to allow taxpayer owned property to line the pockets of one businessman while the rest of us suffer the financial consequences of the City NOT utilizing our largest storm water pond in its maximum capacity.

Thank you for all the work that you do for our City, our whole City.


Melanie A. Nichols


She had spoken in open forum asking the council to cancel the lease agreement with the radio station, which was going to rebuild a 400-foot tower on the land within the Long Hollow Storm Water Basin.

It is land that is needed to expand the pond in order to maximize stormwater retention in accordance with the study the city had received from consultants following the April 2014 floods.

She says a land-use lawyer reviewed the matter and had questions about the lease.

On May 24, 2012, Pensacola City Council approved an agreement to lease property in the Long Hollow stormwater basin to Gene Church and Divine Word Communication, doing business as Divine Word Radio Inc. for a radio tower.

The lease is for 20 years, with an option to renew once for five more years. Rent for the first 10 years will be $7,200 a year; for the second 10 years, rent will go up to $8,400.

Nichols says that following the flooding rains of April 2014, the 125-foot high tower was damaged.

“That’s when we found out they were going to replace the tower that is there with a 400-foot-tall tower after that flood,” Nichols said in August. “We were like, oh my gosh, now is your time to get out that lease and get that out of the stormwater pond so that it can be expanded for capacity.”

Studies of the Long Hollow basin in the wake of the April 2014 event have put a price tag of $57.4 million to $59.1 million to expand capacity at the pond to handle additional stormwater. Subsequent analysis has indicated that increasing stormwater capacity in the Delano area — which is county property — would keep more stormwater out of Long Hollow, which would in turn keep more stormwater out of low-lying, downtown Pensacola.

A lawyer who lives in North Hill alerted the neighborhood association that work was going on at the tower. Nichols says she alerted her city councilman, Brian Spencer, who contacted Bill Weeks, director of inspection services for the city.

Spencer has since put the issue of the lease renewal on the City Council agenda for Nov. 12.

InWeekly Publisher Rick Outzen reports that back in May 2012, when the lease was approved, then City Administrator Bill Reynolds didn’t mention the conservation district at the site of the tower. Read more here.

Nichols said the word came to her that if the city canceled the lease with Divine Word, they could be sued. Nichols said she and others, including lawyer Robert Beasley, looked at the original lease and found what they believed were violations of the original provisions, including subleasing to other people without going to City Council for approval first.

“(That) would give the city what they needed to cancel the lease,” she said.

A letter from Biggs Construction to City Council disputes Church’s statements to the Pensacola News Journal about how the work at the site came to pass. Read that here.

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