Clark County streamlines cell tower rules

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian special projects reporter

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Placing cellphone antennas on barn silos or other existing structures should no longer require notifying neighbors, Clark County commissioners decided Tuesday.

They voted 2-0 to adopt a raft of minor code changes that clean up typos and update references to state and federal laws.

The planning commission in December reviewed the 35 changes, but was evenly split on whether to reduce the review for placing wireless antennas on existing structures that had never had such equipment.

Previously, in some zones, the addition of antennas required a Type II review, which requires public notice, takes longer and is more costly to applicants. Neighbors' objections, however, aren't enough of a reason for the county to reject the antennas.

Even so, neighbors deserve to know if wireless equipment is going in nearby, said Sydney Reisbick, a Ridgefield resident.

"Public input can be important, even if the project can't be stopped," she said.

Commissioner Tom Mielke disagreed. "I picture a monster water tower near your backyard," he said. "How could an antenna be more intrusive?"

He and Commissioner David Madore decided applications to place wireless equipment on existing structures should require only a Type I review, which does not require public notice. The commissioners said it's not worth the extra time and expense for something that doesn't change the outcome. Commissioner Steve Stuart was in Olympia.

New cell towers still will require more intensive review, as will substantially increasing the height of existing towers.

Other changes approved by commissioners include allowing small coffee and food carts on bare or underused lots, raising the value of contracts that don't require competitive bidding to $25,000, and increasing the fee for installing informational signs in county right-of-way from $25 to the actual cost of time and materials.

Commissioners will take a final vote on the changes as part of their consent agenda in three weeks.