By Chris Hendrickson, Monitor
A group of residents afraid of being hit with huge costs for utility improvements in their neighborhood were relieved Tuesday night when the Monroe City Council voted unanimously to stop the formation of a Local Improvement District (LID) which would have moved 14 homes on 157th Place S.E. from septic to sewer.
Local improvement districts are formed as a way to finance capital improvements that are constructed by the city, and provide a specific benefit to the properties within the LID area. The costs are shared by the owners of the properties and the city. The assessment costs associated with the improvement become liens on the individual properties.
LIDs can be formed by either council resolution or by petition. In the case of 157th Place, the city received a petition signed by 11 of 14 homeowners affirming that they would like an LID formed to take the neighborhood from septic to sewer.
The procedure was clarified by city Financial Director Dianne Nelson who explained that, at the time of the petition, the cost of the project is unknown, which is how the petition process works.
“Once we get it, we do an engineer’s estimate,” said Nelson.
The cost of converting the 14 homes in the 157th Place area to sewer was being estimated at $34,000 per property, which only would bring a sewer main down the street. It did not include the capitol connection fee, estimated at an additional $6,777 per residence.
There are many restrictions and regulations that govern the formation of LIDs, including the rule that the actual final assessment cannot exceed the true and fair value of the improvement. In the case that the cost of the assessment does exceed the value of the improvement, and the residents object, the difference in cost must be absorbed by the city.
Ten 157th Place residents attended the meeting to speak out against the formation of the LID.
Velma Smith, a senior citizen, was first to speak out against the added expense.
“I retired in 1995, and there is no way I can afford that amount of money to put a sewer on my property,” said Smith.
Smith then deferred the balance of her five-minute time to her son, Snohomish resident Alan Smith, who spoke on her behalf in protest of the LID formation.
Smith stated that the petition seemed rather unusual in that it was signed by 11 of 14 homeowners, yet the majority seems to be against it.
“How could the petition have so many signatures with such little real support?” he asked.
Smith said he thought it was possible that some people signed the petition without really knowing what they were signing; not realizing that an assessment was something that they’d have to pay. Some of people who signed the petition now wish that they hadn’t, said Smith.
“My mother was not one of them; she’s too sharp,” said Alan Smith.
Some residents said they felt mislead when they were asked to sign, while others felt pressured and coerced. At least three residents who signed the petition asked to have their names removed.
City council heard 30 minutes of public testimony after which they unanimously made the decision to not move forward with the formation of the 157th Place Local Improvement District.
City council held the second and final reading of the amended sign code resolution, which passed unanimously. Last week Patsy Cudaback voted against the resolution because she felt the code did not include specific enough restrictions in regards to the directional placement of 45-foot high signage in the service commercial district.
“I was concerned that it didn’t have the right language,” said Cudaback.
Economic Development Manager Jeff Sax met with Cudaback last week to add in the appropriate clause which stipulates that the 45-foot signage near the intersection of Main Street and U.S. 522 be fronted to the highway, adjacent and perpendicular to the road.
UGA EXPANSION PLANNED
Local developer Dave Remlinger addressed the council in hopes that his property, located in the southwest region of Monroe, could eventually be annexed into the city.
Remlinger stated that, in addition to building a community and events center there, he would like to potentially develop a retirement community on the property, as well as a residential development. He would also like to explore different recreational uses for the land.
Remlinger said he feels that what he is intending to do fits in with Monroe’s “The Adventure Starts Here” theme, and would be a benefit to the city.
“It’s a really unique piece of property in the sense that it’s so close to the city, but yet so isolated in a lot of ways,” said Remlinger.
There are significant challenges to achieving his goal, however.
The property, located south of Monroe High School, includes 85-acres which is currently zoned R5, a residential zone that commands a five-acre lot size.
That property will have to be moved into Monroe’s Urban Growth Area, or UGA, land that the city intends to eventually annex. Currently, some of the land that is included in the proposed new UGA is not yet included in the Rural Urban Transition Area (RUTA), which is land that the city has designated as possible future areas of expansion.
Getting county land transferred into the RUTA or out of the RUTA and into the UGA requires approval of the Snohomish County Council.
One of the steps involved in getting the land into the UGA is to include plans to do so in the 2015 update of the city’s comprehensive plan.
Economic Development Manager Jeff Sax explained to the council what Monroe’s next steps would be in the process.
On May 29, the Snohomish County Council will establish the 2015 comprehensive plan docket. Sax predicts that expanding the Urban Growth Area may be an uphill battle, with more than one obstacle to overcome.
The county planners are forecasting that no urban growth area expansions will be considered during the 2015 comprehensive plan update. The county feels that any population growth in the county between 2015 and 2035 can be completely absorbed within the existing urban growth areas, explained Sax.
Per a memo from Snohomish County Planning & Development services to County Council dated Dec. 13, 2012, specific details in regards to rural-urban transition areas are outlined:
“The intent of the RUTA, under the remand, was to ‘assure that flexibility will be retained to permit the potential future expansion of the UGA.’ Policy direction on UGA expansion has shifted over time. When the RUTA was first applied in 1996, there was a greater degree of support for and expectations of future UGA expansion. Now, under Vision 2040 and the Regional Growth Strategy, UGA expansions are discouraged.”
But the city staff feels that the expansion of the current Rural Urban Transition Area is essential to the growth of Monroe, said Sax.
Sax discussed the benefits of including Remlinger’s land, once the private ranch of Nordstrom heiress Loyal Nordstrom, into the city’s urban growth area.
“It would add a tremendous amount of property value to our city,” said Sax.
The city’s current plan is to draft a resolution to the county describing the intent of including Remlinger’s property into the Urban Growth Area outlined in the 2015 comprehensive plan.
Even if the county council votes it down at the public hearing on May 29, the city can still proceed independently with the applicable environmental impact studies that are required as a part of the annexation process.
Sax recommended that, if the city does intend to acquire the environmental impact study independently of the county, it is critical to make sure that it is a strong statement, possibly utilizing the same consultant as the county uses to avoid any complications later.
The city would then reflect the modification of the Urban Growth Area in the update of the comp plan, which the county council would address in 2015 during the comprehensive plan update process. After determining that Monroe’s plan is inconsistent with their plan, they could either reject it, or agree to modify their comprehensive plan to bring it into consistency with the city.
“In the end, it’s the county council’s decision,” said Sax.
It’s a worthwhile gamble, said Councilmember Kevin Hanford.
“Judging by the location of the property and the value of the property, I can’t see why we wouldn’t risk putting some city time and effort in working towards this, to try and get it into the limits,” said Hanford.
Council moved to direct staff to include the Proposed Urban Growth area expansion on the city’s 2013 docket. Costs of the necessary land use studies will be shared and negotiated with the landowners.