Ecology questions review of East Monroe rezone
MONROE - A state wetlands expert has noted that the city is using outdated and incomplete information about key environmental impacts in its draft phased environmental impact statement concerning the controversial East Monroe rezone request.
“Ecology believes that the wetlands and shorelines sections of the DPEIS need to be revised to more accurately reflect current site conditions and permitting requirements,” Ecology wetlands specialist Paul Anderson wrote in a March 13 letter to the city.
The city is relying on a 1999 wetland delineation study and a 2005 wetland inventory report, which Anderson says are too old and won’t meet state and federal standards for review that will be necessary for this rezone request.
Ecology recommends the city have the applicant reassess the wetlands on the property by a qualified wetland biologist and those results should be verified by an Ecology site visit before including them in a final environmental impact statement.
Ecology also questions the city’s claim that none of the land in the proposed rezone falls within the city’s Shoreline Master Program, which requires an analysis of the impacts to the nearby Skykomish River.
In June 2010, Anderson wrote a letter to Mayor Robert Zimmerman expressing Ecology’s concern about the rezone’s “significant” environmental and physical constraints that would require “costly” state and federal studies.
Zimmerman’s response to that letter was for Ecology to essentially butt out.
The city says it doesn’t need current data at this point in the review of the project, public works director Brad Feilberg said last week.
The proposal asks the city to rezone about 50 acres of farmland from limited open space to general commercial, which requires the city to amend the comprehensive plan. About 25 acres is suitable for building on, planning and permitting manager Paul Popelka said.
Heritage Baptist Fellowship is the primary landowner and has been trying to rezone the land for years, and each time the city has rejected the proposal.
The land is located on the eastern edge of the city on the north side of U.S. 2. The property has many environmental, flooding, traffic and other constraints that have many residents and officials questioning the wisdom of allowing a rezone. Similar proposals submitted by Heritage in the past have been rejected by the planning department, Planning Commission and City Council.
The point of a phased review is to use the available information on the first review, Feilberg said, and the details will be studied when more details are known about what will be built there. That happens after a rezone is granted.
Opponents of the rezone argue the city should consider the cumulative impacts of commercial development on the property in its evaluation of the comprehensive plan amendment and rezone request.
The applicant in its application says there aren’t any impacts because the request simply changes the zoning. The applicant hasn’t named any specific retail project, but the landowners are marketing the land as commercial property.
Once an area is zoned general commercial, opponent Lowell Anderson said, the city will be inclined to approve any project that is allowed in that zoning designation.
“It’s way too late at that point,” Anderson said.
“In order to do anything with this property you need a full blown (environmental impact statement) and what Feilberg has done is totally eliminate that and kick the can down the road, so they really don’t know what the impact is going to be,” he said.
Anderson lives on the bluff above the site where many residents oppose the project for a multitude of reasons including the potential for landslides.
As this paper has reported over the years, the city has rejected the proposal in its various forms. The current City Council, however, did an about-face after Mayor Robert Zimmerman took office in 2010.
The current proposal, submitted by a group representing Heritage called the East Monroe Economic Development Group, is the first one to be granted a Planning Commission review by the City Council, which was lobbied heavily by East Monroe representatives almost immediately after Zimmerman took office.
Zimmerman’s political ally is Chad Minnick, the son of Thomas Minnick, the church’s pastor and the primary landowner. Zimmerman and Chad Minnick pushed for the rezone when both served on the City Council together in the early 2000s.
The Planning Commission must make a recommendation to the City Council in July. The commission held one of two public hearings last week. The first one was for people to comment on the city’s draft phased environmental impact statement. A second public hearing will happen Monday, April 23 at City Hall. People will be able to comment on the project as a whole and won’t be limited to just the environmental statement.
The city originally was going to require a broad review of potential commercial development impacts upfront but for unexplained reasons immediately backed down.
Five people spoke in opposition to the rezone at last week’s public hearing.
Anderson and his neighbors on the bluff are concerned about landslides. The area is slide-prone, the city and residents say.
Anderson is concerned that geologic studies haven’t been done to show development won’t increase the slide danger on the steep slopes present on the northern portion of the property.
While it’s true geologic studies have not been done, Feilberg said, the type of slides that happen in this area now are not the kind that are caused by development.
He said those studies would be done when a specific project is proposed.
Anderson and neighbor Jeff Rogers have submitted their concerns about the environment, traffic and property values for years in response to each rezone proposal.
Rogers noted that the area is “rife with sensitive and critical areas,” which is why past proposals haven’t been given a second look.
“We would ask that you be consistent again, that you turn down any request” to rezone the land, Rogers told the Planning Commission.
He said the city is “jumping the gun” by allowing a comprehensive plan amendment before a project is proposed and the impacts can be studied.
“Obviously what allows development is a rezone, so that does have environmental significance,” Rogers said.
Resident Doug Hamar agreed that the city’s logic “seemed a little bit selective” in requiring only a phased study. He added the city doesn’t need any more general commercial land right now. A search of commercial listings for Monroe turned up 45 available commercial properties, he said.
The applicant and the mayor argues Monroe needs the rezone for economic development.
That claim is not substantiated, the planning department wrote in a staff review of the proposal in August 2010. The city has plenty of capacity for commercial development.
The 2007 Snohomish County Buildable Lands Report “includes findings that show adequate economic capacity in the city,” staff wrote.
The city’s comprehensive plan shows “there are adequate parcels for retail commercial development,” the review says.
The applicant failed to cite specific sections of the state Growth Management Act that the rezone would satisfy, and provided “incomplete and erroneous information” in its environmental checklist, staff wrote in its review of the application proposal.
By STEPHANIE KOSONEN
Published March 28, 2012