Doug Ramsay photo, dougramsayphoto.photoshelter.com
Diane Elliott of Friends of North Kelsey reads a prepared statement to the media and other members of the organization during a noon rally at Kelsey Street and U.S. 2 on Wednesday, March 7 announcing the group’s plans to appeal the Walmart ruling.
Friends appeal Walmart ruling, say city isn’t listening
MONROE - The city isn’t off the hook yet for approving a Walmart in North Kelsey amidst significant opposition to the proposed 155,000-square-foot supercenter.
Friends of North Kelsey decided last week to appeal a January Snohomish County Superior Court ruling in favor of the city.
“This is very important for us to be able to hold our local officials accountable and make sure that the development honors our community’s vision for our future,” Friends’ spokeswoman Diane Elliott said. “We spent years putting together a development plan for this area, and they ignored it and approved a Walmart that was flat-out against the values we laid out.”
Friends held a rally Wednesday, March 7 to announce the decision to appeal.
“We are here to say that as people that live and work in this community, we want our values respected,” said Joan Hicks, an employee at the Monroe Albertsons. “We own homes here. We pay taxes. We shop at local stores and help keep our dollars in our community. A Walmart, given the way they currently run that company and the impact those stores have on local communities, is a threat to all these.”
The development plan for North Kelsey was intended to produce a mixed-use pedestrian-friendly shopping center with architecture reflective of Monroe’s character. The intent was to create a unique shopping district and avoid a cookie-cutter development.
Friends argue the city failed to apply the North Kelsey guidelines to the Walmart project.
In its approval of the project, the city either stated flatly that the guidelines were satisfied or that the plan meets the objectives for North Kelsey in some other unexplained way.
Friends’ attorney Claudia Newman said it seemed odd to her that a City Council would not be required to explain its decision.
The city argued it didn’t have to provide any findings, or supportive evidence, that the guidelines were satisfied because the guidelines weren’t intended to be rigid.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Richard Okrent agreed with the city.
The lower court gave far too much deference to the city, Newman said. The judge sided with the city, but he “disagreed with them,” she said. She also thought the judge “felt the code was very clear in that it required Walmart to do more, but he basically said it’s the city’s choice” with no limit on that, she said.
Shortly after the January ruling, the city went before the City Council to ask for some of the guidelines for North Kelsey, including the public gathering space requirements, to be tossed out because the area wasn’t meeting the original vision for the area. Economic development manager Jeff Sax said the area was shaping up to look more like a general commercial development reliant on cars than a pedestrian-friendly development.
“I think that does tell us something,” Newman said about the city wanting to eliminate the public gathering space requirements from the North Kelsey plan.
The Planning Commission is currently working on removing the North Kelsey plan from the comprehensive plan so regulations can be amended by the City Council whenever instead of only once a year as allowed in the comprehensive plan.
Sax said previously this will help attract buyers for the remaining property. The city is trying to pay off its loan on property it bought there years ago, in part, so it could have more control over the type of development.
After Walmart submitted its standard big-box design, the City Council got the giant retailer to add earth tones and use materials that look more rustic, but it essentially looks like any other Walmart found across the country.
Elliott said she thinks the recent request to toss out some North Kelsey guidelines should help Friends’ appeal.
“So if they didn’t feel they had to abide by it or it wasn’t that rigid, then why are they trying to change it now?” Elliott said.
The Walmart project is part of a larger problem of city officials dismissing citizen input, Elliott said, referring to the proposed wakeboard park at Lake Tye and traffic cameras.
“It’s costing the city money, but it seems the only time we can have a conversation with the mayor or the City Council is via the legal system,” Elliott said.
“The North Kelsey plan was voted into law,” Elliott said. “After they went through and designed it, they voted it into law and it’s part of Monroe code and that’s what the whole basis of our appeal is.”
“They seem to be flagrantly violating a lot of things in Monroe right now,” she added.
The decision to appeal to the state Court of Appeals was not an easy one, as Friends will have to pay the city’s legal fees if they lose.
“Obviously it costs a lot of money to do this and we wouldn’t go forward with it if we didn’t think we had a pretty good chance,” Elliott said.
Walmart has not finished paying for the land, public works director Brad Feilberg said last week. The project is on hold until the legal challenge is resolved.
The Planning Commission is scheduled to make a recommendation on the North Kelsey plan at 7 p.m. Monday, April 23 at City Hall.
By STEPHANIE KOSONEN
Published March 14, 2012