Rezone still alive? Council again mulls rescission

A motion to cease pursuit of the East Monroe rezone may be rescinded by Monroe City Council. If the motion to rescind is made and receives a majority vote, it will be the second time since September that a motion to stop pursuit of the rezone has passed, only to be later nullified by council.
Councilmember Kevin Hanford announced his intent to make the motion to rescind at the end of a nearly four hour council meeting on Tuesday, November 18. Hanford's announcement came after extensive dialogue, including public comment both for and against the rezone.
If Hanford's motion to rescind is successful, Councilmember Kurt Goering plans to file an additional motion which would direct Monroe city staff to notify the Washington State Growth Management Hearings Board of the city's intent to obtain the supplementary environmental study required to potentially achieve compliance with the board.
The 43-acre parcel of property known as East Monroe was rezoned to General Commercial (GC) from Limited Open Space (LOS) in December, 2013. A group of citizens appealed that decision to the hearings board, which issued a determination of invalidity in August. In September, Councilmember Patsy Cudaback made a motion to cease pursuit of the rezone, which so far has cost the city over $195,000 in legal fees and staff time.
Her motion passed, but was later rescinded with an affirmative vote by Councilmembers Goering, Ed Davis, Jim Kamp and Hanford. On Tuesday, Oct. 14, Cudaback again made a motion to end pursuit of the rezone. This time it passed, 5-2, with Councilmembers Hanford and Kamp changing their votes to align with Cudaback, Jason Gamble and Jeff Rasmussen.
Historically, Hanford, Davis, Kamp and Goering have been in favor of the rezone. Cudaback and Gamble have consistently been against it. Newly elected Councilmember Rasmussen has voted with Gamble and Cudaback on the East Monroe issue.
Public comment included several familiar faces, along with some new ones.
Longtime rezone opponent Lowell Anderson addressed council first. Anderson lives on the ridge above the East Monroe property, which is located north of U.S. 2 and east of Woods Creek. Anderson recently discovered via a public records request that, in May of 2013, PACE Engineers, the Kirkland engineering firm responsible for the EIS, filed a deed of trust against the East Monroe property in the amount of $170,000.
Generally, a deed of trust constitutes a transfer of interest in a property, and can be used as a means of securing payment for services rendered.
"This precludes PACE Engineering from making an objective study, and raises serious questions on the previous study. They have a conflict of interest. We are opposed to PACE Engineering conducting the next SEIS study,GÇ¥ said Anderson. "And last, to be perfectly clear, we will contest any commercial or other development that places our homes in harm's way and/or reduces property values. What part of "no' don't you understand?GÇ¥
Several others, including Steve Jensen, Doug Hamar and Brandi Blair also spoke in opposition of the rezone.
Pastor Thomas Minnick and another member of Heritage Baptist church spoke in favor.
Legal counsel for Heritage Baptist Church, Duana Kolouskova, addressed council, as well. Kolouskova works for JMMK, a law firm in Bellevue that specializes in land-use and environmental matters. Kolouskova shared that she's been in land use for nearly 20 years, having represented the Snohomish County Council as well as the county's hearing examiner on growth management and environmental issues.
She encouraged council to move to complete the supplementary environmental work and expressed to them that the EIS already completed was solid and comprehensive.
"There were specific issues that the board remanded on and, yes, that happens. I've seen it happen many times, on all sides of the fence. But we urge you now to complete the work that you've already spent so much time and effort on,GÇ¥ said Kolouskova. "Why waste all that time and effort and just throw it out the window tonight? Why not complete what you've already started, and give this property a chance?GÇ¥
After public comment time was over, discussion began with Councilmembers Goering, Hanford and Davis, who expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of staff time estimated by the city for review of the SEIS.
After the 5-2 vote in October, which was based partly on avoiding further cost to the city, the property owner, Heritage Baptist Fellowship Church, offered to cover the costs of having PACE complete the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). Council did not respond immediately, but when they responded a week later, it was noted that, even with the cost of the SEIS covered, the city would still be responsible for legal fees and staff review time.
City staff was asked to work with PACE to determine cost and time estimates. The city estimated that over 160 hours would be needed to review the SEIS document, and over 160 hours would be necessary to respond to comments from the public. In addition to the time estimates, city attorney Zach Lell estimated approximately $40,000 in further legal fees.
"I'm going to just go out on a limb here and say that some of these numbers look a little high,GÇ¥ said Goering. "Why would it take us an entire month to review something that an expert has already reviewed?GÇ¥
Councilmember Cudaback pointed out that city staff routinely provides estimates for council consideration and said that she felt that the staff is knowledgeable enough about East Monroe to provide comprehensive and systematic information. She reminded council of the accolades they have consistently given to staff for their solid work relating to the rezone.
"This is the same staff that have worked on this project and that we've trusted and commented on what a great job they've done,GÇ¥ said Cudaback. "So I tend to err on the side of believing the information that the staff have provided for us tonight.GÇ¥
Councilmember Davis didn't agree with Cudaback's sentiment. He stated that he was having a difficult time accepting staff's recommendation that it would take 160 hours to review the SEIS and 160 hours to respond to comments.
"If they are so knowledgeable about it, they should be able to look at this and go through it pretty rapidly, I think,GÇ¥ said Davis.
"We're not talking about a first-time-out group that's stumbling through here,GÇ¥ he continued. "They should be able to look at this and review it, I would think, in record time. Not a whole month.GÇ¥
Hanford agreed.
Councilmember Gamble weighed in next.
"The piece about city staff GÇô apparently you're bad or good depending on which point of view your data supports,GÇ¥ said Gamble. "It can come off a little arrogant from us, sitting up here, not doing their job, to say, "Well that just seems ludicrous,' when they do it every day.GÇ¥
Gamble zeroed in on the city's financial capacity for unbudgeted expenses, or lack thereof.
"We've been a very fiscally conservative council, we're actually quite proud of that. We have put a reserve policy in place; we worked very hard in doing that,GÇ¥ said Gamble. "We're $400,000 below that reserve policy that we have in place that we all feel very passionately about.GÇ¥
"At the end of the day there's costs associated with this. Whether you agree with the hours or not we have a $40,000 projection from the attorney,GÇ¥ he continued.
He pressed the issue as far as the city's financial situation.
"We already made the decision, "You know what? We do not have the money,'GÇ¥ said Gamble. "We don't have it. We voted 5-2 on that if recollection serves correct.GÇ¥
Councilmember Cudaback made a motion to approve the city's resolution which would have notified the Growth Management Hearings Board of their intent to cease pursuit of the rezone. Further discussion ensued.
Councilmember Goering asked Councilmember Kamp for his thoughts on the issue. Kamp expressed his desire to see the city respond to the hearings board with the supplementary environmental work as a method of achieving finality on the issue.
"We've had disagreements to the point of incidents; we have to have a police presence in order to just discuss it at all. I would like to see closure on this one way or another,GÇ¥ said Kamp. "It hasn't been resolved. I've heard different numbers; I've heard different speculation; I've heard facts and theories and expectations, but I haven't heard a final decision. That's what I'd like to hear.GÇ¥
"I think we have heard a final decision,GÇ¥ countered Rasmussen, who reiterated that the vote to end pursuit of the rezone had passed on Tuesday, Oct. 14. "That should have been the end of it.GÇ¥
Gamble addressed several other points that came up during the additional discussion. He said that he was not in agreement with those who felt that the matter needed to be "completedGÇ¥ by obtaining the additional environmental work on the basis that the rezone needed to be "pushed across the finish line.GÇ¥ He did not find that reasoning compelling, and stated that, by doing that, they were, in a sense, letting the hearings board make the decision for them.
"That's, in my opinion, not right,GÇ¥ said Gamble. "You've got the data in front of you as a leader. It says, "don't do it, it doesn't make sense.' That's what we're here for.GÇ¥
After discussion was completed, the vote on Cudaback's motion was taken. It failed, 3-4.
Councilmembers Cudaback, Gamble and Rasmussen voted in favor. Goering, Davis, Kamp and Hanford dissented. Near the end of the meeting, during councilmember reports, Hanford announced his intent to make a motion to rescind the action from Oct. 14.
"On December 2, I would like to have an item on there where we can vote to rescind our decision on Oct 14,GÇ¥ said Hanford.
The issue was then raised about Councilmember Cudaback's absence on Dec. 2; Cudaback had stated during her report that she would be out. When the East Monroe rezone vote was initially rescinded in September, the motion to rescind was based on the fact that Mayor Thomas had impacted council decision via a tiebreaker vote.
Councilmembers Kamp and Goering stated at the time that it was important that any decision made on East Monroe was made entirely by the council.
It was proposed that the matter be placed on the December 9 agenda instead, which received some pushback from Councilmembers Goering and Hanford, who expressed urgency in regards to moving forward. Councilmember Rasmussen took issue with this, and stood firm in his belief that the agenda item be moved so that all councilmembers could be present.
Hanford said that he agreed with him in theory, but since they just voted down Cudback's motion to pass a formal resolution to cease pursuit of the rezone, he felt that it wasn't as crucial that all members were present.
"It's pretty clear to me what people are thinking,GÇ¥ said Hanford.
Rasmussen countered back. "I thought it was pretty clear on Oct. 14, too.GÇ¥
It was eventually decided that the possible future action would be reserved for Tuesday, Dec. 9.


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