‘Recipe for Disaster’: Camas residents fume over gas station proposal

'Camas Station' opponents worry development would harm neighborhood, endanger children at nearby Prune Hill Elementary School

An aerial photo shows a vacant 2.16-acre parcel zoned for community commercial use and slated for a proposed gas station-convenience store development (outlined in blue), located at the intersection of Northwest Brady Road and Northwest 16th Avenue, across from the Prune Hill Sports Park (green space below vacant parcel) and down the street from the Prune Hill Elementary School (white roof, lower left corner). (Contributed photo courtesy of the city of Camas)

A "Notice of Proposed Development" sign showing a proposed gas station-convenience store complex known as "Camas Station," sits on a vacant 2-acre parcel of land near the intersection of Northwest Brady Road and Northwest 16th Avenue on Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

A proposal to build a gas station-convenience store complex at a busy Camas intersection located across the street from the Prune Hill Sports Park and about 300 feet from Prune Hill Elementary School is being met with strong community opposition.

Dozens of opponents — many of them parents of Prune Hill Elementary students who say the project would endanger children biking and walking to and from the nearby school — voiced their concerns on Tuesday, July 26, during a public hearing before the city of Camas’ independent hearings examiner, Joe Turner, who will decide the fate of the project’s required conditional-use permit.

Amy Linder, the president of the Prune Hill Elementary School’s parent-teacher association (PTA), pointed out during the July 26 hearing that the intersection at Brady Road and 16th Avenue has “limited sight lines” for drivers and “is a very, very busy place with many small children,” especially during school drop-off and pick-up times in the morning and afternoon hours.

“It is regular to see drivers … speed through there,” Linder said, “and now we’re talking about adding 300 to 400 trips every morning? This is a recipe for disaster.”

If Turner OKs the application for a conditional-use permit, the applicant, Howard Bode of the Las Vegas-based CK Designs, would subdivide the 2.16-acre property — surrounded by single-family housing developments — into three lots zoned for community-commercial uses and construct a 7,350-square-foot convenience store and car wash, 12 gas station pumps, a 3,900-square-foot, drive-through coffee shop and retail building and a 2,800-square-foot retail building.

The “Camas Station” proposal also would include landscaping with street trees along Northwest 16th Avenue, 58 parking spots and six electric-vehicle charging stations.

Camas city staff have concluded the Camas Station proposal complies with the Camas’ current code requirements and recommended approval of the project as long as the applicant meets the city’s and state’s additional conditions — including securing all necessary permits from the Southwest Clean Air Agency.

Opponents believe development would add to intersection’s traffic dangers

In addition to the opponents who spoke during the July 26 hearing, the project also received more than 80 public comments from Camas residents concerned that the Camas Station will negatively impact the immediate neighborhood.

One of the opponents’ most cited concerns is that the Camas Station will contribute to unsafe traffic conditions in the area for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists — particularly young children walking and biking to and from school or the nearby Prune Hill Sports Park.

The applicant submitted a traffic impact study, conducted by the Portland-based engineering firm Lancaster Mobley, that concluded the proposed Camas Station site had “no significant trends or crash patterns at any of the study intersections,” and predicted the project would add a little more than 1,100 new trips through the nearby intersections, including 111 new morning peak-hour trips and 107 new evening peak-hour trips. The traffic analysts also concluded that the project would not “trigger the need for any new traffic signals” and said there should be no left turns permitted into the site from Northeast Brady Road.

The study noted that the intersection at Brady Road and 16th Avenue was the site of a fatality on July 30, 2017, when a motorcyclist “disregarded a stop sign and collided with a passenger vehicle,” but said that crash occurred when the intersection was still controlled by stop signs instead of the traffic signal installed in 2018. Since then, all intersections included in the traffic impact study had “crash rates well below 1.0,” the traffic analysts noted, adding that “recent signalization at this intersection is expected to reduce collisions.”

Many Camas residents who frequently drive, bike and walk through the area, however, disagreed with the results of the traffic impact study.

Linder noted in a written public comment that she believed the applicant’s traffic impact study “flawed in four ways.”

“It fails to appreciate the unique time and space constraints of a public school drop-off period. It fails to address an intersection critical to the traffic flow around Prune Hill Elementary School. It fails to convey the dangerous sight lines on Brady Road, and it was conducted on a day not representative of an average Camas school day,” Linder noted in her public letter to sent to the city’s lead planner, Lauren Hollenbeck and interim Community Development Director Robert Maul on Friday, July 29.

One Prune Hill mother, Karri Richardson, spoke at the July 26 hearing about her experience at the intersection near the proposed Camas Station project.

“I’ve done my own studies at that corner. My daughter was almost hit one time and my son was almost hit four times at that intersection,” Richardson said. “There are blind hills on both sides … and cars ignore the 20 miles per hour school zone.”

Another resident who has lived in the area for 20 years, Gwen Tuason, spoke during the July 26 hearing and asked people in the audience to raise their hands if they’d witnessed someone almost getting hit by a car near the Brady Road and 16th Avenue intersection. The majority of those in the hearing room raised their hands.

“I’ve had a very different experience than what was said tonight in the traffic study,” Tuason said. “Children are trying to cross at dusk, on the weekends and in the evenings. Children use that intersection outside (school times).”

Another resident, Rebekah Wong, emailed city staff on July 26, and asked how the city would ensure the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists if the project is approved.

“The traffic coming from Camas Station will make an already challenging traffic pattern for Prune Hill Elementary students even more dangerous at pick up and drop off times,” Wong stated. “I am a very concerned citizen. I do not want a gas station, convenience store (or) car wash next to Prune Hill Elementary and in the walking path for (Odyssey Middle and Discovery High).”

Dr. Alison Livett, who said she regularly drives Brady Road, wrote to city staff to share her “strong opposition to the Camas Station development.”

“Situating a gas station so close to an elementary school is totally unacceptable and a danger to the health and safety of our children,” Livett stated in her email. “The increased traffic in that location will also pose a danger to the many families on their way to school. … I find it hard to believe that the City would consider such a large development in the middle of a residential area.”

Dan Linder, the father of two Prune Hill students, wrote to the city to oppose the project and said the Brady-16th intersection “is already a disaster on weekday mornings.”

“We routinely see people speeding — in a marked school zone, no less — turning right on red with pedestrians present, blasting through yellow or red lights,” Dan Linder stated in his public comment opposing the project. “Adding a 12-pump gas station with coffee vendor and car wash will be a disaster for this intersection. Prune Hill was meant to be a walkable school, where the bulk of students would make their commute by foot. Attracting more vehicles into this area is just irresponsible to our children.”

Neighbors worry gas station could release cancer-causing chemicals into air near school, residential areas

Others who spoke and wrote in opposition to the Camas Station proposal said they worried the project would add known carcinogens to the air and negatively impact the health of neighbors, including students and staff at Prune Hill Elementary.

Robert Sullivan, who has lived in the area near the proposed Camas Station for more than 20 years, spoke during the July 26 hearing and submitted written comments concerning the possibility that the gas station might release benzene, a known carcinogen, into the air.

“I am concerned with a carcinogen emitting gas station being sited adjacent to an elementary school,” Sullivan stated in one of his written public comments emailed to city staff on June 22. “The (east) wind will carry benzene directly toward the school.”

Sullivan expanded his concerns in another email to city staff sent on July 26: “Gasoline vapors emitted during pumping contain benzene, a well-established human carcinogen linked to hormonal disorders, fertility issues, lung cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and several forms of leukemia. Because the health risk of low-level benzene exposure is not yet clearly established, exposure should be avoided as much as possible … Prune Hill Elementary has 500 children in grades K-5. Children could spend six years downwind of the gas station, putting them at higher risk of disease.”

Sullivan noted in written comments and again during the July 26 hearing that federal guidelines recommend building new schools at least 1,000 feet from gas stations.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent school-siting guidelines, gas stations pose “potential hazards” including air pollution, soil contamination, groundwater contamination, vapor intrusion into structures and heavy vehicular traffic. The EPA recommends that school officials “identify and evaluate gas stations and other fuel dispensing facilities within 1,000 feet of prospective school locations” and evaluate “on a case-by-case basis” for spills, leaking underground storage tanks and potential air emissions.

Sullivan added that “families have moved to Camas for the highly rated schools” and argued “the location of the proposed Camas Station will lessen the desirability of Prune Hill Elementary and diminish property values.”

Many other opponents said they’re concerned about potential environmental and health impacts.

“Gas station pollution is a huge concern and it is inappropriate and wrong to put gas stations in highly residential, school-zoned communities,” Camas parent Aunna Elm told The Post-Record on July 29.

A memo from the Southwest Clean Air Agency showed the Camas Station project will be required to have enhanced vapor recovery equipment; enhanced nozzles to reduce spills; and low-permeation dispensing hoses to minimize gas vapors in the hoses. The gas station owners will be required to conduct annual tests on the vapor-recovery systems and test the pressure/vacuum valves every three years.

The Agency also estimated that the vast majority of the gas pumped at the Camas Station (around 93% by the end of 2023) would be going into vehicles equipped with onboard vapor-recovery equipment, further reducing the chances for dangerous chemicals or ozone-depleting vapors to be released into the air.

In her comments to the city, Elm cited a Scientific American article published April 14, 2009, noting that, although the government requires gas stations to use vapor-recovery equipment to reduce vapors released during the refueling process, “if (the equipment isn’t) working properly, the nearly odorless hydrocarbon fumes, which contain harmful chemicals like benzene, can be released into the air.”

Elm, who has worked on several walk- and bike-to-school campaigns, said she is “shocked and appalled” the city has allowed the Camas Station project to advance this far.

“That it has illustrates how out of touch (city officials) are that they haven’t previously, proactively, developed a protective and community building framework to guide city planning staff,” Elm said.

“You need to rezone areas like this to protect our community,” Elm wrote to city officials on July 26. “And if this proposal is approved, you need to stop it. … You need to take care of Camas residents — our children, our quality of life, our home property values, and not cater to an out-of-state developer … Go back to the drawing board and consider community-building commercial developments that will enhance the safety and livability of the community, not destroy it.”

Decision on conditional-use permit expected later this month

Turner, the hearings examiner, said he expects to make a decision later this month on whether or not to grant Camas Station the conditional-use permit the city code requires to site a gas station on a property zoned for community commercial uses.

As city staff and the applicant’s representatives have pointed out, though the property in question is zoned Community Commercial, which lists gas stations as a conditional use, the two properties located to the site’s west and north are zoned Regional Commercial, which allows gas stations as an outright use.

Stakeholders can appeal Turner’s decision in Clark County Superior Court.

To learn more, visit cityofcamas.us/meetings and click on the “agenda packet” or “video” links for the July 26 Hearings Examiner meeting.