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Final East Monroe study expected to be appealed
MONROE - A final environmental impact statement for the controversial East Monroe rezone request may soon face an appeal challenge.
Paul Popelka, the city’s planning manager, said last week he believes the final environmental study will be challenged to the city hearing examiner.
Heritage Baptist Fellowship Church submitted the request and paid for this latest environmental study. The church has tried for the past decade to get the 42 acres of farmland it bought as limited open space rezoned for commercial with no success.
The rezone proposal has been thrown out four times before due to flooding, environmental and traffic concerns.
Last year, the city’s then-hearing examiner determined a city-written environmental study “was inadequate as a matter of law” because the study asserted the rezone creates little to no environmental impacts while “profoundly lacking” in environmental review. He was fired shortly after releasing that decision.
This year’s draft study, written by the church’s hired engineering consultant PACE, was picked apart for faulty scientific analysis and other significant omissions. The state Department of Ecology, which picked apart the draft study, ultimately recommended the city reject the rezone request.
Popelka said the final study was edited to address many of those concerns.
“This (final study) demonstrates how a site of limited current value could become a model example of successful commercial development accomplished in tandem with environmental protection and flood management,” according to PACE, the church’s engineering consultant.
The city received more than 200 responses on the draft study. Many raised serious issues about the proposal.
The final study doesn’t address any of the environmental, traffic or infrastructure concerns. Instead the study paints a rosy picture and says all those issues will be addressed when a development plan is submitted.
If the final study is appealed, the city’s new hand-picked hearing examiner would make a decision by November.
If the hearing examiner upholds the final study, the hearing examiner’s decision could then be appealed to the Snohomish County Growth Management Board.
Rezone opponents Lowell Anderson and Jeff Rogers may be one team of appellants. They live on the bluff above the church’s property and have successfully appealed the rezone before.
Anderson said last week he’s got an appeal coming.
The deadline to appeal is Friday, Oct. 18.
The site contains native growth protection areas, wetlands and steep, slide-prone slopes. The final study admits only approximately 11 acres of land are developable.
The area also has no connections to city water, sewer and storm water infrastructure, which Heritage Baptist or the land’s buyer would have to build to develop the land.
One of the notable infrastructure requirements is a new sewer lift station. The state Department of Transportation also likely would have to build special lanes for U.S. 2 for traffic to safely access the site.
The site’s ground also has to be raised to get it above the 100-year flood plain level.
Without it, the city is “inviting undue risk by allowing commercial development of property within a flood zone,” Anderson and Rogers wrote in an August letter. Anderson said the cost to build the infrastructure would be prohibitive to develop the land.
The study doesn’t speak to the economic feasibility of the proposal, but it doesn’t have to.
“As the city, we have no role in the private feasibility” of the plan unless it costs the city money, Popelka said.
“The city will not bear any cost for the development of this facility,” Popelka said.
The work on the rezone request, though, is solely to look at the idea of rezoning the land, not what may eventually be built on it, a long-running city and church talking point.
Any building applications would trigger a separate environmental study, Popelka said.
The church’s pastor and primary landowner is Thomas Minnick, whose son Chad Minnick is a political consultant. Chad Minnick is a political ally of Mayor Robert Zimmerman. Minnick sat on the City Council with Zimmerman in the early 2000s and both tried unsuccessfully to get the rezone approved back then.
Minnick helped get Zimmerman elected mayor and numerous current City Council members elected.

 

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