City Council agrees to focus on downtown

The Monroe City Council voted unanimously last week to reestablish a Comprehensive Plan update for the downtown area as a whole.
The City has been working with the consulting firm Studio Cascade since 2013 on the 2015 Comprehensive Plan update, which will include goals, objectives, policy statements, maps and guidelines GÇô all designated to guide future land-use decisions. Additionally, they are updating the City's parks and recreation plan, along with the transportation plan.
A long-term plan
Washington State's Growth Management Act mandates that municipalities create long-term comprehensive plans to help guide and mold future land-use decisions. Per state RCW, Comprehensive Plan updates are required to take place every 10 years, in order to accommodate population growth and the increased need for services, including schools, parks, utilities and roads. Monroe's 2015 update will renew policies and community-wide goals for a 20-year period, and will work in concert with Snohomish County's overarching 2015 Comprehensive Plan update.
Throughout 2014, joint meetings were held with the Monroe Planning Commission, the Monroe City Council and members of the community so that public input could be obtained and assimilated.
Currently, the planning commission and the city council are in the final stages of the process, which entails reviewing the proposed Comprehensive Plan's goals and policies.
Working on downtown
When reviewing the goal and policy matrix during a joint meeting on Jan. 27, the group made decisions regarding a separate downtown-specific goal. Initially, the consultant had identified a total of 14 goals related to land use, transportation, economic development, housing, parks and recreation, capital facilities, natural environment and shorelines.
The list of goals included a goal that specifically pertained to Monroe's downtown core.
For each specific goal, various policy statements have been developed to support that goal. Goal No. 7, for example, which states "Provide and/or promote utility and transportation infrastructures that are safe, effective, affordable, efficient and on pace and in concert with need, growth and long-term objectives,GÇ¥ has roughly 39 separate policy statements that support and enhance the goal.
During discussion, consensus determined that fewer goals were more conducive to the city's desired outcome for the final document. Meant to guide decisions at a macro-level, goals were whittled down from 14 to eight, the language honed to just the essential elements. Further processing is ongoing.
The original downtown goal stated, "Sustain downtown as the "heart of Monroe,' enhancing its commercial, housing and civic vitality.GÇ¥ Subsequently, the goal was revised to say, "Have a downtown that is a thriving commercial, civic and residential area in Monroe,GÇ¥ but after further discussion, the goal was eliminated.
It was then decided to simply incorporate the downtown area into Goal No. 4, which resulted in the following; "Grow as a regional center and destination, providing employment opportunities while sustaining a balanced, diverse, resilient economy for Monroe including a vibrant downtown.GÇ¥
There were those that felt that the lack of specificity was problematic, particularly with the current state of downtown, including numerous empty buildings and closed businesses. Monroe Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors Treasurer Meghan Manning spoke up during the city council meeting on March 3, saying that the downtown area warrants its own specific goal.
"I've been in this town for almost 16 years and I'm getting lumps on my head from beating my head against the wall trying to encourage revitalization in the downtown area,GÇ¥ Manning said. "There's a big push to shop local, but if we don't have any small stores in the downtown to shop local, and we're forced to go to U.S. 2, it's not really shopping local.GÇ¥
Councilmember Patsy Cudaback made a motion to re-establish a goal specifically related to downtown.
"We have lots of policies, but we have few goals GÇô and that's purposeful, because the goals then are highlighted. They stand out GÇô they have particular attention,GÇ¥ Cudaback said. "I think that's what downtown deserves.
"I think that when you look at thriving communities, they have a great downtown,GÇ¥ she continued.
Councilmember Kurt Goering disagreed. He said he felt that the downtown's inclusion into Goal No. 4 was sufficient, and the lack of policies specifically related to the downtown core didn't warrant having a separate goal.
"I think it's best served more organizationally underneath,GÇ¥ Goering said. "We had already added it at the goal level, and it is a focus, but this is a 10 year; this is supposed to be broad at the goal level.GÇ¥
Councilmember Jason Gamble said that he was ambivalent as to whether the downtown area was its own specific goal, or just highlighted in a more comprehensive, city-wide goal.
"To me, it's semantics GÇô it's the action that speaks,GÇ¥ Gamble said. "We're going to put it in the plan whether it's a policy or a goal, but really, what we really need, is action.GÇ¥
During public comment, Monroe Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Una Wirkebau-Hartt stated that she was speaking on behalf of numerous downtown area businesses, including Adam's Bistro, Players Music Mart, Main Street Books, My L.A. Fashion and the Monroe Brewing Company, all of whom support having a downtown specific goal.
Business community's needs
Despite his initial ambivalence, Gamble said that if the business community was in favor of a separate goal, he was more than willing to support them.
"If it's important enough to our business community that they feel like it should be GÇô that is something that we do need to listen to,GÇ¥ Gamble said. "I'd be more than willing to support it as its own goal.GÇ¥
Mayor Geoffrey Thomas was supportive of including a downtown-specific goal into the comprehensive plan update. He pointed out that with the uniqueness of the area, which includes mixed-use commercial and residential properties owned by multiple building owners, it makes sense to have an independent, downtown-related goal.
"It's just a different kind of development in the downtown than you have like up on Highway 2 or in the Fryelands or anywhere else,GÇ¥ Thomas said. "I can see where it makes sense to have a separate goal because it is a unique area in town, so I certainly am supportive of having a separate goal for that as well.GÇ¥
The planning commission and the city council will continue to work towards the finalization of the 2015 goals and policies. The final Comprehensive Plan document must be adopted by the Monroe City Council in June.


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