Neighbors spar over cell tower

Residents of new housing ask city to block construction on 42-year landowner's property

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

 
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When Ryan Erlewine and his wife bought their home five years ago, they believed the newly developed Lacamas Meadows would be an ideal setting for their family. The quiet Camas neighborhood of new homes was a stone's throw from Grass Valley Elementary School and about a mile from Lacamas Lake.

But at the end of Erlewine's cul-de-sac, 350 or so feet from his front door on Grass Valley Drive, a proposal is afoot that could undo the pastoral setting: the development of a 75-foot Verizon Wireless cellphone monopole on a swatch of private land.

"I'm all for property rights," Erlewine said, "except when those rights infringe on mine."

The dispute over the placement of the cellphone monopole has pitted newcomers to the neighborhood, such as Erlewine, against both the city and the longtime owners of the property on which the antenna will go.

A hearings examiner working for Camas approved the monopole two years ago, when fewer people lived in the neighborhood. Because Verizon didn't build it during that two-year span, the city asked the wireless provider to reapply, which the company did in April.

Again, the hearings examiner approved Verizon's application. The company is within its legal rights to place an antenna on the land, said Sarah Fox, Camas' senior planner.

But on May 1, a group of 33 residents objected to the city's approval of the monopole. They filed a letter with the city citing concerns about an "adverse impact" to the health of people, especially children.

The city says it cannot take many of the neighbors' complaints into consideration. Cities are forbidden by federal law from taking the possible health impacts of cell towers into account when deciding on their applications.

But with their letter of opposition, residents of Lacamas Meadows have given voice to a wide range of concerns, including that the antenna will decrease property values and harm migratory birds. Other issues neighbors have raised are that the monopole could disturb archaeologically significant artifacts or leak fuel out of its generator.

Mark Bauer, a resident of the Lacamas Meadows cul-de-sac, said he's been disgusted by the whole process.

"It's a little frustrating because you can't argue based on health risks," he said.

At this point in the process, Bauer said, he'd be happy if the monopole were moved to another part of the property, farther away from houses.

The city's hearings examiner, Joe Turner, found no merit in the neighbors' grievances.

Meanwhile, property owners at the end of the cul-de-sac, where the antenna will go, say their neighbors in Lacamas Meadows have little to complain about.

Jerry and Sue Lanz have owned the property for 42 years and don't believe the antenna will affect anyone.

"Nobody asked us if we wanted to look at these cheesy cracker-box homes with these god-awful colors," Sue Lanz said, referring to the Lacamas Meadows development.

"This is our property," she added. "So their rights end at our property line."

Mayor Scott Higgins said the City Council has purposely stayed out of the fray. While he's heard the complaints -- going so far as to provide his cell number to some of disgruntled neighbors -- he said the city is following its own municipal codes and federal law.

"I understand where these folks are coming from," Higgins said. "But there's not a lot the city can do about this."

Higgins said the city didn't receive any complaints when the city originally approved the cellphone monopole.

Still, Erlewine said he would rather not see a cellphone antenna in a residential neighborhood.

"The thing overall for me is, this isn't needed at all," he said. "The reception isn't poor. We have a lot of commercial land near here, and Verizon could have negotiated with one of those landowners."

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com.