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Heritage Baptist Fellowship hires firm to study rezone
MONROE - The project that won’t go away is back.
Heritage Baptist Fellowship’s years-long effort to rezone its property in east Monroe from limited open space to general commercial is back before the city.
The church has hired Kirkland firm PACE to resubmit an environmental impact statement (EIS) found by the city’s hearing examiner to be “profoundly lacking” in environmental analysis and “inadequate as a matter of law.”  
The firm told the city it hopes to “augment” the 2012 EIS done by a city employee and “demonstrate that the rezone will not have an adverse impact,” according to a letter signed by PACE vice president Susan Boyd dated March 15.
PACE will first need to submit a draft EIS to the city. The public will have 30 days to comment on the draft before PACE can return with a final EIS, public works director Brad Feilberg said last week. Feilberg was responsible for writing the original “inadequate” study.
The new study could be ready for review before the planning commission by August.
The City Council last week approved the item for the planning commission’s project list.
The church has been trying for many years to rezone about 40 acres of former farmland, which floods frequently, has steep slopes, sensitive wetlands and lacks proper vehicle access and utility infrastructure.
The city and church argued the rezone proposal “in and of itself does not have any environmental impacts,” which was flatly rejected by the hearing examiner.
State law traditionally doesn’t allow a city to approve a land use change first and ask questions later, former hearing examiner John Galt wrote in his July 2012 decision.
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, discrediting the city’s primary talking point in defense of the study.
The city later fired Galt shortly after the release of his decision.


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