By Polly Keary, Editor
Lawyers on both sides of the debate over what shape a Walmart should take in Monroe got a chance to make their cases in front of the Washington Court of Appeals last Monday, April 29.
Judge Linda Lau didn’t give attorneys from either Friends of North Kelsey or the City of Monroe much time to frame their argument before she started asking probing questions.
Claudia Newman, who represented Friends of North Kelsey, which appealed the case after a Snohomish County judge ruled that the city of Monroe didn’t err by approving Walmart’s design plans, was given seven minutes to present her arguments.
She described the rules in place for developers in the North Kelsey area in which the Walmart is to be placed as “a vision for development that was created by citizens after many years of meetings and hours of time poring over different plans.”
The result was a 2003 set of design standards calling for green open space, seating, attractive lighting, parking around the periphery rather than in a central lot, articulated facades, decorative elements and pedestrian-friendly walkways.
“It was described as groundbreaking development in the state,” she said.
Before she could get much further with the groups argument that the Walmart plan doesn’t do enough to comply with those goals, Lau broke in.
“It seems the plan itself did not prohibit a big box retail,” she said. “It contemplates big box retail and what I envision is a strip mall, a big ugly box.”
Newman said that the guidelines only allowed for such a thing if it complied with the guidelines.
Lau turned her attention to the requirements for seating and lighting, saying she saw no provision for those requirements in the Walmart plan. She then asked what Newman’s clients wanted.
Newman said the court could either deny the Walmart design proposal outright, or remand it back to the Monroe City Council and make them do it over.
“This doesn’t stop the development,” Newman said.
Monroe City Attorney Zach Lell then presented the city’s case. Before he’d gotten very far, Lau asked him what he thought the court should do.
“The city council should be upheld,” he said.
It was the city council of Monroe that initially approved Walmart’s binding site plan, which FONK challenged.
The attorney and Lau then argued over whether the binding site plan was an appropriate plan to challenge on details of design such as lighting.
“This sort of review is reserved for a future process,” said Lell. “It’s rare to have specific lighting set forth in a binding site plan.”
Rather, he said, those details would be open for discussion during the design review process.
During a short rebuttal, Newman said that this, in fact, was the citizen’s only chance to make sure Walmart created a building that was in accordance with the community’s original vision for the land.
The court is expected to make a decision within 90 days, but city economic development manager Jeff Sax said that he thinks it could come much sooner.
“I think we’ll get a pretty quick return by the end of June and we’ll have definite direction at that time,” he said. “That’s just my opinion.”