Church's rezone request back before city
MONROE - Heritage Baptist Fellowship’s request to rezone its property off U.S. 2 in the eastern edge of the city is back.
The church submitted a new draft environmental impact statement study to the city earlier this month.
The church is still asking to change the land use designation from limited open space to general commercial on its 43-acre property. The new study, though, admits only 11 acres are suitable for building given the property’s significant environmental constraints.
The study also claims to address the inadequacies present in the previous study that was found to be “profoundly lacking” in environmental review and “inadequate as a matter of law” by the city’s former hearing examiner who was fired shortly after handing down that decision.
City director Brad Feilberg prepared the rejected study, which supposedly cost the city six figures to conduct. The new study was prepared by PACE Engineers of Kirkland and paid for by the church.
In order to get the rezone back on the City Council’s docket for reconsideration, the study needed to be redone and the city wasn’t going to pay for it this time around, city planner Paul Popelka said last week.
The nearly 300-page study addresses all the issues the hearing examiner found to be inadequate, Popelka said.
“This one is a much more complete analysis of the property and defines the impacts from development,” Popelka said. “They considered some different development alternatives like conceptual plans for development and they projected what the potential impacts from all aspects could be.”
The study is still a review of a non-specific project land use change and rezone request and presents conceptual development scenarios as a way to demonstrate a range of impacts.
The former farmland site still has many environmental, flooding and traffic constraints. It still lacks access to utility infrastructure and is still opposed by many in the community.
The new study is available for public comment until Friday, Sept. 13 and can be found on the city’s website.
A public hearing on the study is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 5, and the planning commission is scheduled to review the request on Monday, Sept. 9.
PACE is required to address and respond to each comment submitted on the study, Popelka said. Once that process is complete, the firm will augment the study and prepare a final environmental impact statement. The final study is scheduled to be submitted to the city on Sept. 27. The city wants to vote on the rezone request before the year ends.
Once the final study is submitted, there will be 15 working days until Oct. 18, during which time an appeal can be filed. The appeal would be to challenge the adequacy of the study, as Rivmont Drive residents Lowell Anderson and Jeff Rogers successfully did last year.
The two live on the bluff overlooking the site. Neighbors there have been opposed to the project since it was first proposed to the city several years ago. Each time the city rejected the request.
Anderson and Rogers remain “staunchly opposed” to the rezone.
In addition to their belief the rezone makes no sense considering the marshy nature of the property, they are also concerned any development could pose a danger to their property.
“We remain concerned that this presents serious and significant risk of landslides,” Rogers said. “This particular piece of property has every kind of critical area that is in the code. Streams, wetlands, steep slopes; it’s the Full Monty of critical areas which present a lot of challenges and costs to a developer.”
The state Department of Ecology also has expressed similar concerns with the rezone request.
“We’re not surprised that it’s returned and it’s clearly slated for a fast-track before Mayor (Robert) Zimmerman’s term expires,” Rogers said. “The rezone isn’t in the best interests for the city of Monroe. This may be in the best interests for the property owner, but I think it’s clear that it’s not an appropriate rezone.”
Zimmerman is a friend of the church’s pastor and pastor’s son.
The pastor’s son, Chad Minnick, used to sit on the council with Zimmerman. Both tried unsuccessfully to get the rezone approved back in the early 2000s. The request dominated Monroe politics for several years.
Rogers and Anderson said they’ll do everything they can to keep this rezone from going through again.
“We intend to be persistent pests to the city’s rezone,” Rogers said.
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