City’s defense of study echoes church’s talking points
MONROE - Lowell Anderson, backed by six of his supporters, finally got his hearing before a city hearing examiner last week, appealing the adequacy of the city’s environmental impact statement of Heritage Baptist Fellowship’s 50-acre rezone request.
Public works director Brad Feilberg presented the city’s defense of the phased environmental study, stating that an incomplete study is the only “logical” procedure to follow in this case because the city does not yet know what will be built on the land.
That is not what Feilberg originally determined.
In July 2011, Feilberg determined the city should conduct a full environmental review of the rezone request because the rezone proposal is “anticipated to have significant adverse environmental impacts,” he wrote then.
But after that decision was released to the public a representative from the church, now operating under the name East Monroe Development Group, successfully persuaded Feilberg to change his decision and only require a phased incomplete review.
At last week’s hearing on July 19, Feilberg argued the city will analyze the environmental impacts of commercial development once a specific project is submitted.
Again, that is not what Feilberg argued before that visit from the church’s representative.
In July 2011, Feilberg said that he and the church disagreed on how to approach this rezone request. Feilberg said the cumulative impacts should be addressed upfront so potential developers will know what can be built on the property, located on the eastern edge of town just off U.S. 2.
“The reason you’re rezoning is to actually do something, so the effect of rezoning is to allow something. So why would you rezone something if they can’t do it,” he wrote at the time.
Heritage Baptist Fellowship, the group’s primary landowner, argued there are no environmental impacts because the rezone request only “changes the color on a map.”
People who live on the bluff overlooking the church’s property are not comforted by this assertion.
Anderson argued that because the land in question is a virtual “sponge” that floods frequently, any development at all will most definitely have adverse environmental impacts.
Not only does developing on this land not make sense, Anderson said, but it would put him and fellow property owners residing on the top of a steep slope that overlooks the property in danger.
Several Rivmont Drive residents testified at the appeal hearing, each explaining one or more times they had personally seen flooding of the area.
Bluff-dweller Douglas Hamer testified to seeing such severe flooding in the 1990s that a car was pretty much underwater.
Chad McCammon also spoke, questioning the validity of the city’s environmental impact statement. McCammon said the author of the statement (Feilberg) was supposed to listen to agencies with “special expertise,” and balked at the fact that there was only one author to the study.
“Nothing against Brad (Feilberg), but I don’t see how one person can be an expert on all these areas,” McCammon said.
Two representatives from East Monroe attended and spoke at the hearing.
Thomas Minnick, pastor of the church and property owner of the disputed land, voiced his support of the city’s decision to phase the environmental study.
“Not only is it supported by law, but it’s the only decision that makes sense,” Minnick said.
Minnick repeated several times that rezoning the land from limited open space to general commercial is nothing more than “changing the color on a map.”
Neighbors and many outside stakeholders disagree.
“An (environmental study) should be used to protect the city from a natural disaster,” said McCammon, adding severe flooding is inevitable there and will cause soil erosion that would put nearby residents at risk.
Bluff resident Jeff Rogers cross-examined Feilberg after his testimony, asserting that the “phased review equals no review.”
“Where is the analysis? I understand there is information (about the land), but where is the analysis of this information?” Rogers asked Feilberg.
Feilberg replied that it is impossible to do a full analysis if there is no development project to analyze.
“So you admit there is no analysis,” Rogers said.
“It depends on how you define ‘analysis.’ I wouldn’t go that far,” Feilberg replied, to which Rogers retorted, “You pretty much just said that.”
Hearing examiner John Galt will have 10 business days to make a decision on the appeal. He can deem the environmental study one of three things: inadequate, adequate, or adequate but place further conditions upon it.
A handful of council members, including Councilwoman Patsy Cudaback, and staff members attended the hearing.
Friend of the church, Mayor Robert Zimmerman, attended the hearing, as well.