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City wants to buy controversial East Monroe land

MONROE — The city is interested in buying the East Monroe site, and will seek $1 million worth of state and county grants to help pay for the potential acquisition.
It’s a route the city hasn’t tried before, but the city says landowner Pastor Tom Minnick of Heritage Baptist Fellowship has put in writing that he is a willing seller.
It appears merely coincidental that last month a three-judge panel in the state Division One Court of Appeals affirmed a state board’s determination that the 43 acres of farmland along U.S. 2 shouldn’t be rezoned to commercial use. Heritage Baptist had appealed the board’s determination.
The city has not made any offer, city administrator Deborah Knight said.
Buying it can be a “win-win” scenario, Knight said, but it could take a long time to complete.
“One, the Baptist Church is interested in selling it, and two, the neighbors are interested in seeing it preserved,” Knight said.
Knight said she spoke with Minnick about it “well before” the court’s March 12 ruling.
The City Council voted 6-0 last week to pursue a $500,000 grant with the state Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) to acquire and preserve the land. Later it also intends to ask the council for authorization to file for an additional $500,000 grant with the Snohomish County Conservation Futures Fund. The city will learn if it gets either of these grants months from now.
The site is currently undergoing a new appraisal. It previously was valued at $1 million, Knight said.
“The goal is not to have any city funding purchase this property — to have it all grant funded,” Knight told the City Council.
The city would know later this year if the state money comes through. Both the state RCO grants and the county’s Conservation Futures Fund use a competitive bid process. Knight said that when city staff presented the idea to the county’s board, the board was receptive.
The state Growth Management Hearings Board’s decision deemed the city rezone was out of compliance. Since May 2016, the city has retained compliance by designating the East Monroe area as Limited Open Space under an interim zoning by ordinance. The ordinance has been renewed every six months, with the next public hearing to renew the zoning designation this week after press time.

In the courts
The growth board’s final order April 1, 2016 concluded that rezoning the East Monroe area along U.S. 2 into commercial zoning does not meet the state Growth Management Act, a land use rulebook for combating sprawl. The decision exhausted any appeals Heritage Baptist could make to the board, so days later it appealed the matter.
The state court of appeals affirmed the growth board’s decision in a 26-page decision.
The judges rejected Heritage Baptist’s challenges that the board was misapplying the law regarding the rezone for items ranging from misinterpreting environmental law — the board’s core body of work — and that the board was not giving appropriate deference to the city’s approval of the rezone.
“Finding no error, we affirm,” wrote Acting Chief Judge Michael J. Trickey.
“We reject Heritage’s argument and conclude that the (Growth Management Hearings) Board did not improperly expand the 2016 order’s scope of review,” the judge’s decision reads.
The judges also wrote that while the board must defer to city regulations, the board has the right to take
action if the city’s rezone action didn’t meet state law and demand that Monroe makes remedial changes.
“Heritage may not rely on the City’s existing laws, plans, and regulations to lessen its environmental review burden for the present nonproject action. Therefore, we conclude that the Board property concluded that the (Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement) was legally insufficient because it did not analyze the potential environmental impacts,” the judges wrote.
For example, they wrote, the environmental study did not acknowledge the landslide hazards for the homes on a bluff above the site.
Longtime rezone opponent Lowell Anderson is one of those homeowners. Anderson said he was elated to see a potential sale.
“This is what I’ve wanted since 2004 to preserve it as Limited Open Space,” Anderson said.
He and others who live along the bluffs above the East Monroe site have fought commercial development at the site in part because they fear changing the landscape below will cause water to shift paths and erode the hill their homes sit on. The site below them is on a 100-year floodplain and receives up to eight feet* of water during floods. An oxbow stream runs through the property and the Skykomish River sits across the site off of U.S. 2.

Past experience
In April 2016, the City Council was readying to kill the rezone application, but walked back on taking a vote after Heritage Baptist threatened legal action. Heritage Baptist at the time pointed out a technicality in city law that the application could not be discarded so swiftly.
Prior city councils were friendlier to the rezone, and some observers say were politically stacked in favor of it.

On the web
A repository of documents is on the city website at
www.monroewa.gov/419/East-Monroe



* - CORRECTION
In the April 25 story, “City wants to buy E. Monroe land,“ the flood level incorrectly listed inches instead of feet. The flood levels rise up to eight feet. The Tribune regrets the error.

  

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