Decision on Farrell House permit tonight

More than 100 citizens attended Thursday’s Planning Commision public hearing

After 3 1/2 hours of public testimony and Camas Planning Commission deliberation, a decision about whether to approve an application for an unclassified use permit from the owner of the historic Farrell House will be made tonight.

Planning Commissioners Troy Hull, Judy Hooper, David Shepherd and Bryan Beel voted to carry the meeting over to today, at 7 p.m., at City Hall, 616 N.E. Fourth Ave.

“It’s late, and I think we need more time to deliberate, read letters,” said Chairman Shepherd, just prior to the meeting at the Camas Public Library being adjourned at 10:30 p.m.

Planning Commissioners Shelly Damore, Travis Monteith and Tim Hein were absent from Thursday’s meeting, which according to Community Development Director Phil Bourquin will preclude them from being able to participate in any deliberations, or take a vote on the issue.

Farrell House owner Heidi Curley submitted an application for the permit in April with the intention of making the 1915-built home the site of tea parties, weddings, anniversary celebrations, and other special events. It would also be the primary residence of Curley and her three daughters.

Curley’s proposed plan calls for the property and house at 416 N.E. Ione St., to offer catered events with attendance numbers ranging from 10 to up to 100 people. Curley has entered into an agreement with Camas Friends Church to provide off-street event parking in its lot, and the owners of Brown’s Funeral Home are willing to make its parking lot available when possible.

Michael Lewellen, of Lewellen Architecture, LLC, represented Curley during the public hearing. He said his client didn’t initially purchase the home intending to open it up for special events. That idea came later after members of the community approached her about it.

“It was her home, it was a great place to live, but she thought it could also be used as a business venture,” he said. “First and foremost, this is going to be a house, not a business.”

Curley currently lives in Washougal while the Farrell House is undergoing an interior and exterior remodel. She has plans to move in later this summer.

Those who spoke against the project said it would create problems with noise, traffic and parking, and ruin the quality of life that residents of the established Evergreen Terrace neighborhood have come to appreciate.

Mike and Jennifer Ludwig’s home and property are right next door to the Farrell House. Mike Ludwig argued that it would be difficult to control the noise level and actions of 80 to 100 people gathered for the proposed major events.

“Our home and our backyard is our sanctuary,” he said. “We come home to get peace and quiet.”

He added that the additional noise, traffic and visual impacts of temporary structures like tents and restroom trailers would lower his property value.

“Nobody’s home in the area would be more affected than ours,” he said. “If this proposal is approved, who would even want to buy our house if we wanted to sell it?”

Jennifer Ludwig admitted that the proposed business will likely be successful, which she views as part of the problem.

“What is this business going to be in two to five years,” she questioned. “With success comes growth. We don’t want to be collateral damage.”

The Farrell House is located in a primarily residential neighborhood, which also includes Camas Friends Church on Northeast Third Avenue, as well as Zion Lutheran Church and Brown’s Funeral Home at its perimeter along Garfield Street, which also separates the neighborhood from the downtown core. Resident Karl Kuzis said Evergreen Terrace is not the right place for an event venue.

“The proposal you have made is a wonderful proposal,” he said. “But not in a residential neighborhood.”

Clifford Duncan described the proposal as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” explaining that it does not meet Camas zoning code requirements or purpose, which are “to encourage the most appropriate use of land, and conserve and stabilize the value of property.”

“Approval of the application would impact property values negatively,” he said. “It would lower revenues to both the city and school district.”

While the majority spoke against the project, supporters also testified.

Pat Wallace, who lives on Northeast Franklin Street, said she believes the proposal will benefit the whole neighborhood, and would ensure that the property does not fall into disrepair.

“I believe this proposal before you is the best possible option to save this neighborhood,” she said.

“The heart of this neighborhood is a big beautiful old house, and big beautiful houses don’t stay that way by themselves. Fortunately, someone who has the desire and means to do it bought it.”

Jason and Dawn Stanchfield live nearby on Northeast Sixth Avenue. He said using the home for events is appropriate for the historic building.

“I can’t believe the response the Farrell House is getting,” he said. “I think [the proposal] is fantastic and I completely support these plans.

“That building, that house, has always been a focal point,” Stanchfield continued. “The conditional use permit for what is planned is perfect for it.”

Dawn Stanchfield, owner of Lily Atelier clothing boutique, said using the house for events will support the downtown restoration efforts that have been going on for several years.

“I am so thrilled to see someone is saving this historic monument,” she said. “I think of how this venue would be a huge asset to our community, to the city of Camas, to downtown. I think we have to look at a bigger picture than just our neighborhood.”

The city staff report recommends approval of the application, with a list of conditions including: no more than one event per day, with a maximum monthly use of 36 hours; major events should not exceed 80 guests, and minor events should not exceed 30 guests; no more than one major event per month; outdoor events can only occur from June through August; and all events must conclude by 10 p.m.

According to the staff recommendation, if approved the permit would be non-transferrable and expire if Curley no longer operates the event business.

The public hearing portion of the process closed on Thursday.

No additional public testimony or evidence will be accepted at tonight’s special meeting.

The Planning Commission will make its recommendation to the City Council, the body that will make the final closed-record decision on the issue.

View the full 124-page staff report at www.ci.camas.wa.us/pworks/plancomm.htm.