Planning commission leans toward recommending denial of east Monroe rezone

The Monroe Planning Commission is leaning 6GÇô1 in favor of recommending the Monroe City Council deny the east Monroe rezone proposal and concurrent comprehensive plan amendment.
The decision was made after nearly two hours of discussion during the regular meeting of the Monroe Planning Commission on Monday, Oct. 19, at city call. After discussion, chairman Bill Kristiansen asked each commissioner where they stood on the issue, giving them time to formulate their positions. Monroe Community Development Director Dave Osaki will draft the formal recommendation to deny the rezone, including the findings of fact that were the basis of the recommendation.
The commissioners will formally vote on the recommendation on Monday, Oct. 26.
The discussion took place on the heels of the Oct. 12 meeting, when more than three hours of public testimony was heard, largely in opposition to the rezone. Heritage Baptist Church Pastor Thomas Minnick, representing the church's property owner, was the sole supporter of the proposal during testimony.
The east Monroe rezone has been in limbo since the ordinances rezoning the 42.8-acre parcel of property were passed on Dec. 26, 2013. The ordinances were remanded back to the city with a determination of invalidity 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, that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) created by Kirkland engineering firm PACE Engineers was inadequate.
When making a decision involving a comprehensive plan amendment, the planning commission must determine that the amendment meets specific criteria, such as whether the amendment adversely affects public health and safety and if it is "consistent with the overall goals and intent of the comprehensive plan, as amended by the proposals.GÇ¥ An additional list of criteria should be met, "unless compelling reasons justifies its adoption without them.GÇ¥
For six of the seven commissioners, the east Monroe rezone proposal and comprehensive plan amendment fell short of satisfying one or several of the mandated criteria. This is a departure from the commission's 2013 action, when it voted 5GÇô2 to recommend approval.
After the initial determination of invalidity, the city was given until Feb. 23, 2015 to comply with the GMHB's decision by performing additional environmental study. A six-month extension pushed the compliance deadline out to Aug. 21. City staff went before council on Aug. 11, seeking approval for an additional six-month extension. Council refused, stating that they wanted to see it completed by Dec. 1.
Commissioner Steve Jensen was concerned that the commission was being asked to make the decision in such a short amount of time, and questioned the city's self-imposed Dec. 1 deadline. Since the GMHB deemed the city's ordinances invalid, the city will need to meet the Dec. 1 deadline and defend the supplemental EIS in front of the board. The board will then decide if the SEIS cures the deficiencies of the initial EIS.
Jensen said the EIS is an extensive document, and he doesn't feel they've been given adequate review time.
"This stack of paper is more than the comprehensive plan, and we're being asked to make a decision in two weeks. I'm bothered by that. I don't know why we can't just slow this down and take our time to be sure that we get the right result from all this,GÇ¥ Jensen said. "It bothers me that this is rushed so fast.GÇ¥
Jensen asked numerous questions of PACE throughout the discussion, probing further into issues related to landslides, compensatory flood storage, LIDAR discrepancies, the feasibility of commercial development and flooding. PACE Engineers vice president Susan Boyd and city staff responded to questions asked by Jensen and other commissioners.
Boyd addressed flooding concerns.
"It's not about whether or not there could be flooding on the site. It's about the fact that we hired the best experts we could find, the best experts there are, to go out and model the river and evaluate the site in what its potential for flooding is,GÇ¥ Boyd said. "Right now, the site is not in the flood plain. But in the EIS, we propose that anyone who develops the site would want to look at the fact that it could flood and that compensatory flood storage would be a prudent and smart thing to provide.GÇ¥
After discussion, each commissioner weighed in.
Commissioner Dian Duerksen said that the church deserved due process and the opportunity to explore and pursue its options regarding the rezone, but she remains unsatisfied with the supplemental environmental study completed by PACE. She said the property owner knew the property was LOS when it was purchased, and she doesn't see the need for a change. She said that there is much that can be done on the property within its current zoning.
"I don't see that general commercial is a good fit for that, and wouldn't, myself, be recommending that it be general commercial,GÇ¥ Duerksen said. "I think it should stay limited open space because there are still a lot of opportunities and options that they could go with themselves or as they sell it.GÇ¥
Kristiansen, who voted in favor of recommending approval in 2013, said he had changed his position in light of recent discussion.
"I know the last time that this went through I went the other direction, because the EIS was pretty much done,GÇ¥ Kristiansen said. "We thought it was good to go.GÇ¥
He said there are too many questions that haven't been answered in the supplemental EIS, and without the answers to those questions, he is unable to recommend approval.
"This is not an easy decision; this is a tough decision,GÇ¥ Kristiansen said. "I love my city. I'd love to see the city grow, but I want to see it grow the right way.GÇ¥
Commissioner Bridgette Tuttle looked at the matter differently. She refuted the fact there are many unanswered questions, and said the EIS was meant to be informational, not a proposal for development. She said the feasibility of commercial development isn't a concern, but flooding, landslides and traffic will always be concerns no matter what is built on the property.
Tuttle, who voted to recommend approval in 2013, said that this time she also is not supportive of the rezone.
"I haven't heard a compelling argument for making the change. I do think that the property can be sold and built on as is,GÇ¥ Tuttle said. "I would recommend that we not go ahead with the change.GÇ¥
Commissioners Brian Coonan and Jay Bull found the rezone incompatible with the city's recent push to revitalize the downtown area. Why push development further outside the city, Bull said, when the city is working so hard to attract businesses and customers to the downtown area. Commissioners Bull, Coonan, Tuttle, Kristiansen, Duerksen and Jensen all stated they were inclined to recommend denial. Commissioner Michael Stanger said he was inclined to recommend approval.
Jensen said the east Monroe hearings have been unlike other hearings he's been involved in, as far as the researched nature of the comments.
"Something's different here,GÇ¥ Jensen said. "There's a lot more physical data that's coming in, not just subjective comments, and I can't ignore that.GÇ¥
The Monroe City Council will hold the first reading of the comprehensive plan and rezone ordinances on Tuesday, Nov. 10. No formal public hearing has been scheduled, but residents may use the public comment portion of the meeting to provide testimony.


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