East Monroe rezone passes with 5-0 vote
MONROE - Just a few hours after the city’s hearing examiner turned in a reconsideration decision that again sided with the city, five City Council members voted unanimously to approve the East Monroe rezone.
The comprehensive plan amendment changed the land use designation on a 43-acre piece of property largely owned by Heritage Baptist Fellowship from limited open space to general commercial.
The ordinance passed without a dissenting vote at a special Dec. 26 meeting.
“As far as the city goes, it’s made it through the process,” city planner Paul Popelka said.
The city will no longer be involved with the property until the owner decides to develop it and seek permits from the city.
The rezone ordinance can be appealed to the state Growth Management Board within the following 60 days, Popelka said.
“If there’s an appeal filed to the state board, that would put everything on hold,” Popelka said.
If the rezone goes unchallenged, the property owner will be free to begin the process of any land development he sees fit, Popelka said.
Doug Hamar, a resident who lives on the bluff overlooking the marshy property, called the decision to finalize the rezone over what many consider to be a holiday break “outrageously irresponsible.”
The hearing examiner turned in his reconsideration decision at 1:30 p.m. on the afternoon of the special council meeting. The meeting started at 7 p.m.
“This kind of fast-tracking and slight-of-hand maneuver clearly frustrates citizens and overwhelmingly goes against code,” Hamar said. “I strongly urge you to postpone the decision until the next regularly scheduled council meeting where there might be more than five of you present.”
Councilmen Tom Williams, Kurt Goering, Ed Davis, Jim Kamp and Kevin Hanford were present at the Dec. 26 meeting. Williams stood in as mayor pro-tem because outgoing Mayor Robert Zimmerman was absent.
All five members voted in favor of the ordinance.
Council members Patsy Cudaback and Jason Gamble were absent. Cudaback and Gamble were the only council members who had regularly voiced opposition to the East Monroe rezone.
Cudaback has said at previous meetings that she didn’t agree with changing the zoning in order to suit the property owner’s needs.
“In my mind what we’re doing is we’re changing the comprehensive plan to fit the project, and that should not be the process,” Cudaback said in 2012 when the proposal first went through the comprehensive plan amendment process.
In 2012, resident Lowell Anderson, who has been fighting the rezone for years, appealed the validity of the first environmental impact study done on the property and won. The city fired that hearing examiner, and the City Council later approved and then rescinded the vote to approve the rezone.
In 2013, the city brought the rezone back saying it wanted the rezone approved by the end of the year.
The marshy farmland property was currently zoned limited open space and is prone to flooding. Only 15 acres are suitable for building, according to the church’s environmental study.
The church has been trying for years to get a rezone approved. The property has serious environmental, traffic and infrastructure issues. Many in the community and the state Department of Ecology are opposed to the rezone, including Anderson who lives on the bluff overlooking the site.
The proposal had been rejected every step of the way until Zimmerman and a friendly City Council put it back on the city’s agenda.
During the time set aside for citizen’s comments at the Dec. 26 meeting, a resident spoke up, saying that she was directed to ask the city attorney about how to appeal to the state Growth Management Board.
City attorney Zach Lell wasn’t eager to give out that information.
“I obviously can’t advise someone who would be in the position of challenging or appealing one of my client’s decisions, which is the city of Monroe, so I can’t give you that type of advice, but I believe staff is issuing a formal notice of decision following the completion of the hearing examiner’s reconsideration process and that will have some guidance,” Lell said. “Beyond that, my recommendation would be to consult (state laws) or your own attorney.”
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