Cell tower proposed for Prune Hill area

Citizens voice opposition during public hearing

Public comment will be accepted through Thursday, about a proposal to build a 175-foot wireless telecommunications tower on Prune Hill in Camas.

PI Telecom Infrastructure, LLC, of Jacksonville, Florida, and Freewire of Beaverton, Oregon, applied for a conditional use permit to build a monopole, three panel antennas, seven microwave antennas and ground equipment. The facility would be constructed on a 40- by 40-foot cement pad at 2829 N.W. 18th Ave.

The monopole would support antennas for Freewire and T-Mobile, and later a third carrier.

According to Clark County property records, there is one single-family residence on the five-acre parcel that is owned by Jean M. Nagel. The site is located partially within a wetland buffer.

“The applicants have leased a portion of the parcel for development of the wireless facility,” states a report prepared by city of Camas staff.

If the CUP is approved, it wouldn’t be the first wireless tower in this area.

An 80-foot wireless facility is located across the street, to the south and set back approximately 145-feet from 18th Avenue. This parcel, owned and managed by the city, includes a 100-foot water tower and a 180-foot Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency lattice tower. There are leases for eight other wireless providers, according to Senior Planner Sarah Fox.

Earlier this month more than a dozen people spoke in opposition of the permit application during a public hearing in front of Hearing Examiner Joe Turner, who will be making the final decision on the issue.

Many of those who testified expressed concerns about a wireless telecommunications tower’s visual impacts, health issues related to exposure to radio frequency waves, and the effects on migratory bird patterns.

Real estate agent Francine O’Shaughnessy said the wireless tower will block her view of Mount Hood and property values will be impacted.

“Everybody in this room is thinking the same thing as I am: There goes my property values,” she said. “I pay $7,000 per year in property taxes. Most people in my neighborhood pay upwards of $10,000 a year in taxes. I’d like to know what the city is going to do about this.”

James Christensen said citizens of Camas should have a say in whether a project that visually impacts an area, moves forward.

“Are there any benefits that accrue to the city of Camas? Are there any benefits to the people of Camas, or is all of the benefit to the company proposing to put this up?,” he asked. “I think we should have some input on issues like this — where a tower goes up in our neighborhood and someone makes a profit on it and we take a loss because of property value. They walk away with the money.”

Turner said he will be making his decision based on the city’s laws, which do allow cell phone towers in residential areas within a specific set of criteria.

There are certain factors he is not legally allowed to contemplate when making his ruling.

“Under federal law, considerations about health effects and [how the health effects relate to] property values are not relevant to this application, so I will not allow testimony on those issues,” he said. “I know that is a significant concern for people, but federal law prohibits consideration of those issues at this level.”

If approved, the tower would be built behind Katherine Atkins-Castillo’s home. She said she is worried about potential health risks.

“It’s a little shocking to me that we are here talking about property values and migratory birds, when we are not allowed to speak about the welfare of our children,” she said. “We all have children, and what we are being asked to do is bet the safety of our children on the safety of this tower.”

City staff have recommended that the permit be approved with conditions. Some of those stipulations include surrounding the property with a fence, and painting the tower in earth tone colors.

Representing the applicants at the hearing was Meridee Pabst, a land-use attorney with Busch Law Firm. She said the applicants oppose the conditions that would require the completion of half-width frontage road improvements and dedication of a 37-foot right-of-way.

“Our principal concern with that is this kind of use basically has no trip generation,” Pabst said. “There is a monthly trip for maintenance. There really is not a link, even a reasonable link, between the trip impacts of this particular proposal and the proposed mitigation.”

According to Pabst, the proposed project is “not materially detrimental to the public welfare, or injurious to the property in the area.”

“This area is already characterized by some utility uses, including the water tower,” she said. “The proposal promotes the public welfare by providing substantially better coverage and making new wireless service available. The project has been designed to minimize the intrusion to the wetland buffer, and has been designed to ensure that the tower is at least tower height from off-site residences.”

Turner decided to allow the record to remain open through Thursday, June 23, at 5 p.m. Comments on the conditional use permit application can be submitted to the City of Camas Planning Department at 616 N.E. Fourth Ave., Camas, WA 98607, or to Fox at sfox@cityofcamas.us.

Once the record closes, through Thursday, July 7 at 5 p.m. interested parties can respond to the information in the record. The applicant will then have a two-week period to respond to all comments, without submitting new evidence.

Turner’s decision is expected to be made public in August.

Documents relating to the conditional use application are part of the record of the June 2 Hearing Examiner. They are available at http://www.cityofcamas.us/index.php/yourgovernment/minuteagendavideo.