City of Washington

It was standing room only in the Washington City Council’s chambers Monday as residents lined up to vocalize their opposition to a proposed RV campground on International Avenue and Tower Co. 2013’s plans to construct a cell tower at 602 Alberta Lane. 

Last month, City Administrator Darren Lamb presented a list of prospective recommendations for how Washington could use the $2.6 million in federal relief earmarked for the city as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. One of the recommendations was to construct a 20-24 space campground, which would likely be managed by the Washington Area Chamber of Commerce, at the intersection at Ninth Street and International Avenue. 

The campground, which has been a topic of discussion for several years, would be placed at the southeast corner of the intersection. 

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jennifer Giesike said the need for an RV campground in Washington is “constant” but is especially noticeable during the community’s different festivals and the Washington Town & Country Fair. 

“We are constantly getting phone calls about if there is a campground in our area,” Giesike told The Missourian. The nearest campground is Pin Oak Creek Campground in Villa Ridge, according to chamber officials.

Under the current proposal, each rental space would be equipped with a sewer, water and electric hookup. Pricing for the rentals has not been set. 

On Monday, seven different residents urged the council to reconsider constructing a campground there. 

“People are getting anxious by what they are hearing about this campground,” Shannon Hoch told the council. She said she wondered how long a person could rent a space in the campground, the size of RVs allowed to camp there, whether pets would be allowed on the property, whether the chamber would impose a nightly quiet time, if and where overflow parking area would be for users of the campground, security concerns and concerns over firewood being brought in. Conservationists have long pointed to the transportation of cut firewood from one community to another as a way diseases and insects, such as the Emerald Ash Borer, are able to spread. 

Amy Howell asked the council to consider how an RV campground would “change the neighborhood,” adding that residents already deal with “riff raff” from the nearby skate park. Among her other concerns she said, were increased traffic along International Avenue, the trash collection from the campground, the construction of a sewer system there and increased water run off at the intersection, which is already prone to flooding. 

“I’m worried that if you put more concrete slabs like that were there before when it was a trailer park that it will be an even worse problem,” Howell said. She and other speakers also suggested that the RV campground be moved to a location closer to downtown Washington or to the Town & Country Fairgrounds, somewhere “with more access to tourism.” 

Other speakers discussed the potential cell phone tower at 602 Alberta Lane, which was the proposed site of a cell tower that city officials rejected in February. 

“Nobody in that subdivision wants it there,” Ron Willenbrink said. 

Washington Community and Economic Development Director Sal Maniaci and City Attorney Mark Piontek said Monday they had not received any information about the project, which was first reported in The Missourian following a legal notice appearing in the newspaper’s May 12 edition.

According to the notice, the proposed cell tower is 165 feet tall and would be a monopole tower with no lighting proposed. Plans call for it to be located on land adjacent to self-storage buildings. 

City officials have said that if the company opts to build a “disguised cell tower” there will not be a public hearing as there was in April regarding the previously proposed cell tower, which would have required a special use permit from the city. Instead, companies wanting to build a disguised cell tower would only need to seek a building permit from the city. 

A disguised cell tower could, per current city code, be made to look like a range of structures including a clock tower, an observation tower, a water tower or artificial trees.

“I don’t care if it looks like a giraffe or a tree or something else, it is still a cell tower,” Willenbrink said. He then asked the council to bar the construction of a cell tower there permanently. 

“There are very limited things that the city can do to prevent a cell tower from being built,” Piontek said. He and Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy said that recent changes in federal and state laws have “tied the hands” of the city.

“Talk to the legislators who represent this area at the state level,” Lucy said. “We are at the state’s law’s mercy.”

Rick Muench told the council he had followed the instructions of the legal notice, which said the project is going through a public comment period. 

“I called the number that was in the paper and asked to speak to the lady, and they said I couldn’t talk to her, but I needed to email her. I sent her an email, and I haven’t heard a response,” Muench said. According to the legal notice, comments can be directed to Martin Environmental Solutions Inc. at 4268 Oldfield Crossing Drive, Suite 306, Jacksonville, FL 32223. Comments also can be submitted to Amy Perrine at aperrine@martinenviro.com or by phone at 904-737-1034.

If this tower is constructed, Howell said she will be able to see two cell towers from her front door. She said she is worried about the proliferation of cell towers being built in Washington. “It is not what we want for our neighborhood or our town.”