Council approves East Monroe rezone 4 to 2
MONROE - Heritage Baptist Fellowship finally got its rezone, something the city refused to grant multiple times since 2004.
But the church’s political allies hold office now.
This time around, the city was willing to rewrite the city’s comprehensive plan to suit the church’s rezone request.
The city also was willing to ignore its own land use policies to suit the request, as suggested by outside stakeholders and a resident’s appeal of the city’s phased environmental review of the rezone.
To outside stakeholders, residents and up until now Monroe’s own planning staff, nothing about the church’s rezone suggests it is a good idea for Monroe.
The property, located on the eastern edge of Monroe off U.S. 2, has no access to water and sewer lines. (The church asked to change its property from limited open space to general commercial. The land doesn’t have the infrastructure to support commercial development.)
The property has limited access to busy U.S. 2., and required traffic improvements from the state Department of Transportation would be the city’s responsibility. The land floods regularly and has multiple sensitive wetlands, steep slopes and natural habitat living there.
The property also represents Monroe’s last remaining pieces of farmland.
Residents who live on the bluff overlooking the property worry about diminished property value. The value of their homes would be affected from light and noise pollution, as well as soil erosion from the possible commercial development.
The city says the property is suited for an eastern commercial entrance into the city. This determination was made by city staff hours before a public hearing on the merits of the rezone request. The comprehensive plan says — at least before the city rewrote it — the property is suited for a protected scenic entryway into the city.
The city says the property is a great place for economic development, but the city is having trouble attracting commercial development in established commercial zones. (Think North Kelsey.)
None of the many environmental constraints and traffic issues was addressed when the City Council voted last week to approve the change in the land use designation and zoning for the property in a 4-2 vote.
Councilmen Kurt Goering, Tom Williams, Jim Kamp and Ed Davis voted for the rezone. Councilwoman Patsy Cudaback and Councilman Jason Gamble voted against it. (Councilman Kevin Hanford was absent.)
Gamble said the council should wait for the outcome of a resident’s appeal challenging the adequacy of the city’s phased environmental study. The appeal goes before the city’s hearing examiner at 2 p.m. Thursday, July 19 at City Hall.
Cudaback voted against the rezone for the reasons she expressed at previous council meetings. She said she didn’t think the city was following the correct public process.
“In my mind what we’re doing is we’re changing the comprehensive plan to fit the project, and that should not be the process,” Cudaback said at the May 1 council meeting.
Cudaback also said during that meeting that the state Department of Ecology has several concerns about the adequacy of the city’s phased environmental impact study.
“Never before (has the city) minimized the studies that need to be done before a rezone,” former councilman Mitch Ruth said.
“The whole thing smacks of corruption,” Ruth added.
Ruth said he has had issue with the comprehensive plan amendment and rezone since his days on City Council. The proposal was rejected several times, and for “good reason, mostly for public safety,” he said.
Ruth served on the council in the early 2000s when the church’s previous proposals were being rejected by the planning department, planning commission and City Council.
The original plan for the property according to Heritage Baptist was to build a church, but Ruth speculates the group bought the land to flip it.
The church wouldn’t have had to go through all the trouble to rezone, had that been their intent, Ruth said. He said a simple application for a conditional use permit over eight years ago “would probably have been granted,” and with a $5,000 fee for it, the supposed church could have been built.
“Logic would bring one to the conclusion that they never intended to bring a church there, that they always had some other desire. It may be an erroneous conclusion, but one has to ask the question,” Ruth said.
And the land, which is “worth next to nothing in its current state,” Ruth said, will immediately have a higher value once it is rezoned.