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News / Clark County News

Camas ‘stealth’ tower proposed at Camas Methodist Church approved following debate

AT&T plans to build cellular structure

By Kelly Moyer, Camas-Washougal Post-Record
Published: February 24, 2024, 6:04am

Hearings Examiner Joe Turner has approved a conditional-use permit for AT&T to construct a “stealth-designed” cellular tower at the Camas Methodist Church near downtown Camas.

The future cell tower will be disguised inside an 88-foot bell tower with a church spire and cross on the side of the church. It will replace the existing facility on the nearby Garver Theater rooftop at 1612 N.E. Garfield St.

The Garver Theater cellular lease expires Nov. 1, 2028, and AT&T has been seeking a replacement site that would give the same coverage and easily “hand off” cellular signals to nearby towers.

At a public hearing held Feb. 15, Turner heard testimony from Camas city staff, the applicant, and community members who supported or opposed the conditional-use permit.

Sharon Gretch, with Smartlink Group, spoke on behalf of AT&T Wireless.

“The existing site we have on Garver Theater is going to be decommissioned. The use will be terminated soon,” Gretch said. “So we were trying to get a head start on that.”

The site at the Camas Methodist Church closely mimics the coverage area and service provided by the Garver Theater site, Gretch said, and could even improve cell coverage in downtown Camas.

Some in favor; some opposed

Camas Methodist Pastor Don Shipley testified before the hearings examiner that he also lives across the street from the church and favors the cell tower project.

Shipley said he is happy his church can provide a site that will give the neighborhood reliable cellular coverage and happy that the tower could provide cellular service for police and fire department staff in the event of an emergency.

“We were mindful of the fact that there would be an aesthetic issue,” he said, “but were pleased to find that the tower would be disguised to make sure it wouldn’t be an eyesore for the neighboring community.”

Shipley said the tower also will, through the lease with AT&T, provide needed funds for his church.

Another neighbor, Bonnie Jean Ione, had concerns about the proposed cell tower.

Her main concern, she said, involved possible health concerns related to cellular towers. Ione said she also worried that the tower would lead to depreciated home values in the immediate area, including to her own home.

Turner said federal law prevents him from even considering health issues when it comes to cellular tower placements.

The company said the new tower would include AT&T’s 850MHz low-band, fifth-generation (5G) technology.

“Low-band 5G frequencies are the oldest cellular frequencies and are being used by AT&T to provide widely available 5G service in residential, suburban and rural areas,” the company stated in its report to the city. “This is the same spectrum being used for 3G and 4G cellular services today. … Low-band 5G frequencies are a tradeoff of download speed versus distance and service area — they are slower than the high-band and mid-band frequencies, but they travel the farthest and can pass through more obstacles and provide a better, more reliable indoor and outdoor signal for a larger service area.”