It was standing room only at Monroe City Hall last Tuesday, with residents attending the public hearing for the east Monroe rezone proposal spilling from council chambers out into the lobby and lining up all the way to the front doors.
A total of 50 people provided public comment during the hearing, 43 of whom were against the east Monroe rezone. The public hearing portion of the meeting extended for two hours and 15 minutes, as individuals gave testimony as to why they were opposed to the idea of rezoning the 42.8 acres of east Monroe property from Limited Open Space (LOS) to General Commercial (GC). They left the meeting disappointed, after watching the council vote 4-3 in favor of approving the rezone.
Seven people spoke in favor of the rezone, including Pastor Thomas Minnick, on behalf of property owner Heritage Baptist Church, and several others that were directly involved in the Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) completed by PACE Engineers of Kirkland.
The rezone has been in a state of flux since the ordinances rezoning property from LOS to GC were passed on Dec. 26, 2013. The ordinances were remanded back to the city with a determination of invalidity in August 2014, after the Washington State Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) sided with a group of petitioners opposed to the rezone.
Petitioners were concerned about environmental impacts on the property, 75 percent of which is undevelopable due to environmentally sensitive areas that include flood plain, wetlands, nearby steep slopes, habitat and shorelines. They asserted, and the GMHB agreed, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) created by PACE was inadequate.
Additional environmental study ensued, as PACE deployed a team of experts to cure the deficiencies found in the original document. Next, the matter went before the Monroe Planning Commission.
After its review of the new information presented in the SEIS, including hours of public testimony by Monroe residents largely opposed to the rezone, commissioners voted 5-2 in favor of a denial recommendation.
But the recommendation did not sway councilmembers Jim Kamp, Kurt Goering, Ed Davis and Kevin Hanford, all of who remained staunchly in favor of the rezone.
Many of the faces at the public hearing were the same; the east Monroe rezone has faced long-term opposition since its initial proposal more than a decade ago. Monroe residents Lowell Anderson, Doug Hamar, Misty Blair, Councilmember-elect Kirk Scarboro and Ashley Sellers have spoken out against the rezone repeatedly.
Sellers took her opposition a step further, going door-to-door during Tuesday's severe rainstorm, circulating her "Citizens Against the Rezoning of East MonroeGÇ¥ petition. By Tuesday night's council meeting, she had collected a total of 397 signatures from Monroe residents opposed to the rezone. She presented that information to the council during her comments.
Numerous local farmers voiced their opposition to the rezone, including Wiard Groeneveld, Jerry Labish, Scott and Vicki Furrer and others. Local farmers strongly feel rezoning the east Monroe property to GC would adversely affect the numerous other farms that line U.S. 2 between Monroe and Sultan.
East Monroe opposition knew no age boundaries. Thirteen-year-old Gabriel Martin said voiced his opposition to the rezone, talking about how great it was to grow up with access to a farm.
"I've gotten to spend more than half my life on a farm; it's my home away from home,GÇ¥ Martin said. "I'm against the rezoning of the east Monroe property because I've been a part of the farm, and it's rare for kids my age to have spent as much time as I have.GÇ¥
Martin told council when he's spending time on the farm, he works with cows, drives a tractor, rides horses and gets stuck in the mud. It's been a wonderful way to grow up, he said.
"I hope that the city council will look at the best interests of Monroe, and not an individual, and vote no on the rezone,GÇ¥ Martin said.
Blair admonished the council for trying to rush the process. Once the ordinances approving the rezone are passed through the city council, it will then be up to the city to defend the SEIS before the GMHB. GMHB compliance is due by Dec. 1, due to a self-imposed deadline recommended by Goering this August.
Initially, after the GMHB remanded the ordinances back to the city, compliance was due by February. The council passed a motion last December authorizing the city attorney to request a six-month extension, which pushed the compliance deadline out to Aug. 21, 2015. Then, in August, rather than allowing the city to request an additional six-month extension, council told staff the work needed to be completed by Dec. 1.
"The idea that we should shorten the public process and the council's discussion to try and meet this Dec. 1 deadline, it seems kind of ridiculous,GÇ¥ Blair said. "It took 15 months for them to draft this document, and we're talking about pushing it through to adoption in just a matter of a couple weeks after the final being issued.GÇ¥
Jackie Lagase, a newcomer to Monroe, spoke on a variety of issues, including the conflict of interest argument, which has been brought up in the past. Residents opposed to the rezone feel PACE Engineers' lien on the east Monroe property represents a conflict of interest.
PACE asserts that a lien in this type of situation is typical. The property owner hired them to perform a costly service, and the lien on the property is to ensure they get paid.
"PACE has a lien against a property for services rendered; they need this property to sell to recoup expenses. PACE is one of the companies evaluating the property's viability and making recommendations to the city council,GÇ¥ Lagase said. "In no way is this an arm's length transaction, which creates bias.GÇ¥
Lagase teamed up with Sellers, and went door to door talking to Monroe residents and business owners.
"I learned most business owners in downtown already feel neglected and not heard by the city council,GÇ¥ Lagase said. "They say, "The city council does whatever they want, so why does it matter? No one has a voice in this town.' GÇ¥
Once all the testimony was heard, council held discussion consistent with previous discussion. Councilmembers Patsy Cudaback, Jeff Rasmussen and Jason Gamble were opposed to the rezone, while Kamp, Hanford, Davis and Goering were in favor. Goering moved to waive council procedures on the second reading of the rezone ordinances, which would have eliminated the second reading scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 24.
Council procedures dictate that ordinances are read two times prior to adoption, unless council votes to waive a second reading. Kamp and Hanford typically do not favor waiving council rules, but voted this time in favor of doing so. Goering's motion to waive council rules failed 4-3, with Cudaback, Rasmussen, Gamble and Davis dissenting.
The first reading of the rezone ordinances passed 4-3, and the second reading will proceed on Nov. 24. If the ordinances successfully pass through the city council, the city will defend the SEIS before the GMHB on Jan. 20.