Monroe considers continuing helpful permit fee breaks

Waivers originally set to help business development

Kelly Sullivan

The city of Monroe is reviewing permit fee waivers being regarded as possible barriers to business development. 

The Monroe City Council on April 25 authorized staff to draft an ordinance that would renew the rules adopted most recently on May 24, 2016. Roughly $3,077 in fees were deferred since the temporary regulations — set to expire in June — were put in place last year. 

Monroe community development director Ben Swanson said the system benefits the city’s smaller businesses in the downtown area. He said many of these owners are startups with limited funds.

There are about 17 types of permits that business owners can seek a waiver for, according to council documents. Between June 24, 2016 and this April 17, 13 people individually saved hundreds on project permit costs in downtown. Some of that activity would likely not have happened without the fee waivers.

“Further, in cases where development has been incentivized by the downtown permit fee waiver, the city may benefit from other permit revenue that might not otherwise have resulted (e.g. sales tax revenue),” according to the documents.

Sharinabean’s On Main owner Sharina McCrain said the temporary regulations were what allowed her to pursue the prime location she had hoped for on Main Street. She said she had been eyeing the downtown corridor for at least a year before finding out the building near the northwest corner of Lewis and Main streets was available for lease.

McCrain said she had given up on finding an affordable site in the area. In addition to rent, the cost of securing the various permits, including signage and sidewalk use, add up. Being a single mother, she said she did not have any extra income to make up for the expenses.

“I would not have been able to open the shop had they not waived those fees,” McCrain said.

McCrain said she was not surprised the waivers would be an option when she first went in to Monroe City Hall to apply; she said he had heard about them from another business owner.

McCrain’s said she had a positive experience with staff, and feels the city was very accommodating when assisting her through the steps of getting the business up and running in December. 

For the purposes of the regulations, downtown is designated as the area bordered by Madison Street to the west, McDougall Street to the south, Al Borlin Park to the east and U.S. Highway 2 to the north, according to council documents.

Monroe Public Works director Brad Feilberg said the temporary ordinance was first adopted during the Great Recession in 2008. It has been renewed every year since, except for a period of 2.5 years between 2012 and 2014. The regulations are regularly reviewed because “the city council wants to stimulate revitalization of the downtown,” he said.

The fees waived in the past year have ranged from $42 to $463.05, according to council documents. There are nearly 30 permit fees that cannot be suspended, including for model homes, planned residential development, shoreline work, fire district fees and conditional use permits. 

Councilmember Patsy Cudaback asked Swanson to bring back more information on what permits were applied for the 2015-16 year with the drafted ordinance. She also said she wanted to see if there is evidence of trends in what waivers have been applied for. The councilmembers also discussed potential marketing strategies, according to an email from Monroe city clerk Elizabeth Adkisson.

“It is important to encourage development, and improve the look and the feel of downtown,” Cudaback said. “That is one of the reasons we looked at this in the first place — to improve the look and the feel of it.”

Feilberg said the updated ordinance will be up for its first reading on Tuesday, May 16. If it moves forward, it will receive a second reading on Tuesday, May 23.


Photo by Kelly Sullivan: Tiara Crooks makes coffee at Sharinabean’s On Main in Monroe on Thursday, May 4.


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