City isn’t charging for environmental studies
MONROE - The city isn’t charging property owners for work it does on behalf of their request to rezone their land.
The city didn’t keep track of hours spent on preparing environmental impact statements for at least two landowners seeking rezones. The two are Heritage Baptist Fellowship and FirstAir Field.
Public works director Brad Feilberg said last week that the city has “no policy” on who gets charged for an environmental impact statement (EIS), despite the significant cost of preparing one. Feilberg had estimated previously the study could cost up to $160,000 for Heritage’s rezone.
It appears city staff’s time has been given away to developers for free.
Feilberg, who was the sole staff member to prepare the EIS for the citizen-initiated Heritage Baptist rezone request, said the city’s municipal code says it doesn’t have to charge the applicant of a rezone for the study.
He added that because he is a salaried employee, there is “no real cost” to the city if he works “an extra 20 hours a week.”
Mitch Ruth, who served on the City Council when the church’s rezone was initially requested and denied multiple times, remembers the controversy over the EIS cost differently.
Ruth said Heritage Baptist complained several times over the years of the large financial burden that paying for the study would put on them.
“Quite literally, the citizens are funding the endeavor. (Preparing the EIS) is staff time and that’s not free,” Ruth said.
“Since the applicant didn’t pay for it, it’s clear that the city paid for it all,” Ruth said of the environmental study.
Feilberg pointed the Tribune to a part of the code about the preparation of an environmental impact statement, which says nothing about charging an applicant.
The section of the code that addresses environmental impact statements says the city: “may charge and collect a reasonable fee from any applicant to cover the costs incurred by the city in preparing the EIS.” It goes on to say the city “shall” advise the applicant of the projected cost prior to preparation and collect a bond from the applicant.
Feilberg said he never kept track of the hours spent on preparing the study and didn’t charge the church. He suggested this was an administrative decision from City Hall to encourage growth.
Feilberg’s claim the city doesn’t have to charge for a study appears to contradict a city document sent to the church at the beginning of the rezone review process.
Former city planner Russ Wright sent a number of letters to the church’s representative notifying the church of all fees that would be associated with its rezone request.
In one letter dated Nov. 10, 2010, Wright notified the church of six fees, which included the actual cost of an environmental impact statement plus a 10 percent administrative fee (this administrative fee would be dictated by the amount of time spent on the document’s preparation).
All of these fees were expected to be ultimately paid for in full by applicant Heritage Baptist.
The city charges applicants for work associated with citizen-initiated comprehensive plan amendments and rezone requests. The church’s request was a citizen-initiated one, which is why Wright sent the church that letter.
Feilberg said the letter from the planning department doesn’t denote city policy and is “just a letter.”
Not only did Feilberg say he has “no clue” how many hours he spent preparing the document, he added that he would have no way to determine the final cost of the study.
“How would you determine that?” Feilberg said, adding he doesn’t record the things he spends time on.
The application to rezone the church’s 50 acres in east Monroe was rejected multiple times by the planning department, planning commission and the City Council for a host of reasons, one of which was because a large expense was estimated to study the many environmental impacts.
The environmental study prepared by Feilberg was later found to be “profoundly lacking” in environmental analysis and “inadequate as a matter of law” by hearing examiner John Galt.
Shortly after Galt’s ruling on the study, the City Council approved the termination of his contract with the city. The council also reversed its decision to approve the church’s rezone, which means at this time the church’s land will stay limited open space. The church was looking to change the zoning to general commercial.
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