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East Monroe rezone case heard in appeals court

MONROE — The East Monroe rezone recently went before an appellate judge who heard arguments over a state board’s 2016 determination that environmental studies on the site gave an insufficient, partial picture.
The state Growth Management Hearings Board threw out the environmental studies, voiding a 2015 City Council decision that farm-land along U.S. 2 can be rezoned for commercial use.
Landowner Heritage Baptist Fellowship Church appealed one week later on April 8, 2016. Then the issue lay dormant. Oral arguments were made on Friday, Sept. 22 in the state appellate court in Seattle. 
The oral arguments focused on whether the land can be rezoned without a development project on the table to study. The state board determined that the rezone must consider future development that may occur.
Duana Kolouskova, a land use attorney for Heritage Baptist, wrote in a brief that the board “overstepped its authority” in making this decision, and argued in court that it “eviscerates the State Environmental Policy Act’s distinction between ‘non-project’ and ‘project’ actions.”
An attorney for the rezone’s opponents, Maura Fahey, countered that rezoning the land as a first step would create inertia for a future project that would be developed in critical areas.
The land in question sits in a proposed 100-year special flood hazard area, however because Monroe has not adopted the FEMA floodplain map, “the city has no authority” to require develop-
ment to meet this level of mitigation, Fahey said.
The city did not join into Heritage’s appeal, and is named on the opposing side in the appeal case.
Heritage Baptist has fought to achieve rezoning 43 acres of flood-prone open space for a decade. Upzoning the land would generally increase its market value, regardless if development ever occurs.
A row of homes along Rivmont Drive stand at the precipice of a 40 percent slope above the site; homeowners here vigorously oppose
any rezone. They say development would alter the site’s makeup below and cause the hill they live on to collapse.

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