Hearing examiner rejects rezone plan
Comprehensive plan amendment to rezone church property “profoundly lacking” in environmental analysis, hearing examiner says.
MONROE – Hearing examiner John Galt decided last week in favor of Lowell Anderson and neighbors, rejecting the city’s phased environmental impact statement of Heritage Baptist Fellowship’s rezone request.
“The Final Phased Environmental Impact Statement is inadequate as a matter of law,” the decision states.
State law traditionally doesn’t allow the city to approve a land use change first and ask questions later, Galt found.
The phased environmental study “defers all environmental analysis to the future rather than addressing the ‘big picture’ before the decision to change the land use designation and zoning is made,” Galt wrote, which discredits one of the city’s major talking points in defense of the study.
Galt flatly rejected the church’s and city’s assertion that the rezone proposal “in and of itself does not have any environmental impacts.”
The rezone would be “profoundly lacking in detailed environmental analysis,” Galt wrote.
Appellant Anderson said he felt “ten feet high and rising,” in an interview last week.
After taking his wife out to lunch Tuesday, July 24, he came home to an e-mail from the city at around 2 p.m. notifying him of his victory.
“I’ve been on the phone, high-fiving and running around like a chicken with its head cut off since then,” Anderson said.
“Those people didn’t listen to us for two years,” he said, “I’m just tickled pink at the decision.”
Anderson filed his appeal May 10 of this year.
Anderson’s appeal highlighted five main points: frequent flooding of the area, earth-related impacts, prevalence of streams and wetlands, state Department of Transportation and Department of Ecology concerns, and finally the lack of utilities to the area.
Galt sided in favor of Anderson on all accounts.
Economic development manager Jeff Sax told the Tribune that the city hasn’t yet “had time to analyze the decision” and that “it is what it is.”
Although the city can’t yet say what it plans to do about the loss, it has two probable options.
The first option would be for the City Council to ask the hearing examiner for a reconsideration of his decision, through a form filed with the city. Galt would have 10 days to respond.
The second option, if, upon request for reconsideration, Galt stands by his decision, it can be appealed to a Superior Court.
Likely appellants would be the city of Monroe or the East Monroe Development Group, which represents the church’s land interests, but Sax said that anyone can appeal the decision.
The City Council approved a comprehensive plan amendment on July 10 which would allow the city to rezone the land from limited open space to general commercial.
Councilmen Kurt Goering, Tom Williams, Jim Kamp and Ed Davis voted for the amendment. Councilwoman Patsy Cudaback and Councilman Jason Gamble voted against it. (Councilman Kevin Hanford was absent.)
At the time, Gamble said the council should wait for the outcome of Anderson’s appeal challenging the adequacy of the study.
The land has not been rezoned. City leaders have expressly wanted the zoning changed.