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Council halts East Monroe pursuit

MONROE — A swath of acreage called East Monroe that the city intended to preserve is no longer being pursued, based on a City Council decision.
On Dec. 8, the council voted 6-0 to direct the mayor and city staff to cease looking for grant funding. Councilwoman Patsy Cudaback was ill and wasn’t part of the vote.
The council’s vote was initially prompted as a call for a decision on the landowner soliciting the city to buy his 43 acres for $3 million.
The council couldn’t bear the thought of pulling $2.5 million today from the city’s pocket to do so. The city’s standing plan had been to accumulate government grant money to make the eventual purchase. But it’s been slow: Monroe has collected a $500,000 county grant, and intended to ask for $1.5 million from state and county sources during 2021.
Councilman Jeff Rasmussen made the motion for an option directing to stop seeking grant funding; Councilwoman Heather Rousey seconded it.
City staff priorities and workloads were why Rasmussen chose the option to discontinue pursuing grants, he said at the meeting.
The council did have the option to have the city continue seeking grants.
The landowner, Pastor Tom Minnick, has waited for over two years seeing if the city could buy the 43 acres at the city’s eastern entryway from him. Minnick did not respond by deadline to an emailed request for comment for this story.
Over the summer, the council rejected a prior request from Minnick to agree to sign a letter of intent putting the city on a path to buy the site for $2.8 million. That rejection in June was on the same principle: The city doesn’t have money-in-hand to buy it, and there are bigger priorities for the city budget.
The East Monroe site was once a battleground on land use.
Minnick sought to rezone the farmland that his church, Heritage Baptist Fellowship, bought along U.S. 2 from open space to more valuable commercial development purposes.
That saga began in 2005 when Minnick asked for a self-initiated land use change using the city’s comprehensive plan process.
The council rejected that request the first time around. Heritage Baptist’s second request died at the planning commission. The third time around, though, in 2011, new members on the council were friendlier to the rezone, and a majority voted to approve it. (Some observers said the council became politically stacked to favor it.) Cudaback is the only council member from that era who is still serving on council, and she consistently voted against the rezone.
The rezone approval took the city through a protracted legal battle to defend its action. In 2016, the state Growth Management Hearings Board deemed the city out of compliance with the state’s Growth Management Act (GMA) for approving this rezone. (The city used temporary measures to recharacterize the land use as open space to meet compliance and avoid the penalties that come with being out of compliance with the GMA, which is state law.)
Neighbors along the nearby bluff vigorously opposed the rezone on the concern that development on the land would damage and erode the hillside their homes sit on.
In the later 2010s, the City Council did not approve backing the  rezone further, which put the city on the opposite side to Minnick in late-stage legal proceedings to get the rezone approved.
The battle came to a seemingly conclusive end in March 2018 when a three-judge panel in the state Division One Court of Appeals affirmed the state hearings board’s 2016 determination that the 43 acres of farmland along U.S. 2 shouldn’t be rezoned to commercial use.



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