Group requests review of cell tower permit decision

Hearing examiner Joe Turner must respond within 45 days

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A citizens group has filed a motion asking the Camas hearing examiner to reconsider a recent decision to allow a telecommunications tower to be built on Prune Hill in Camas.

Vancouver attorney Mark A. Erikson filed the motion with the city, on behalf of Camas resident Glenn Watson and Friends of Prune Hill. It argues that Hearing Examiner Joe Turner failed to correctly interpret the law, and his decision to approve the conditional use permit was not supported by evidence. In addition, the motion states that the city did not conduct reviews of its telecommunications ordinance, as dictated in city code.

“The purpose and structure of the Camas telecommunications ordinance demand that the applicant prove a significant gap in service, define the search ring from which to serve the gap, and compare alternate nonresidential locations and technologies within the search ring,” the motion states. “The record in the present case is devoid of the foregoing, and the approval must be reversed. In the alternative, the approval is void because Camas failed to conduct mandatory periodic review, rendering the telecommunications ordinance inconsistent with the current state of law regarding review of telecommunication facilities.”

On Aug. 5, Turner approved a conditional use permit allowing PI Telecom Infrastructure, LLC, of Jacksonville, Florida, and Freewire of Beaverton, Oregon, to build a 175-foot wireless telecommunications tower on private property at 2829 N.W. 18th Ave. 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 record included verbal testimony from a dozen citizens who spoke out against it during a public hearing in July, as well as a slew of written letters opposing the project.

According to Turner, to approve the CUP he needed to determine whether the use would be materially detrimental to the public welfare, or injurious to the property or improvements in the vicinity of the proposed use.

“Prior to adopting the code, the City Council considered the potential impacts of wireless facilities and concluded that they can be compatible with residential uses,” Turner stated in his decision. “Therefore, the examiner cannot find that the mere existence of a wireless communication facility in a residential zone is per se materially detrimental to the public welfare or injurious to property or improvements.”

Erikson filed the motion for reconsideration on Aug. 19. According to the city’s municipal code, Turner must issue a decision within the next 45 days. His options include denying the request, modifying the decision, or affirming the decision.

If Turner decides to let the decision stand, the code states a request for judicial review can be filed in Clark County Superior Court within 21 days.

“While we remain hopeful the issue will be resolved in our favor, we believe if the tower is erected local homeowners will also have the ability to pursue separate lawsuits against the applicant, the property owners, and the city, based on the damage the 175-foot tall tower will cause to views and property values,” Watson said in an email.

Meanwhile, during a workshop on Aug. 15, the City Council discussed the possibility of implementing a moratorium on locating any future cell towers within Camas city limits. This would allow time for staff to research the issue and for the City Council to consider whether a new ordinance is needed. A vote on the proposed moratorium is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 6.

Watson said he and members of the Friends of Prune Hill plan to encourage citizens to attend that meeting, which will take place at 7 p.m., at City Hall.

“Many residents have expressed disappointment with the erection of multiple cell towers in residential areas, and the massive amount of residential and commercial development taking place in Camas,” he said.