By Chris Hendrickson, Monitor
EAST COUNTY SENIOR CENTER
East County Senior Center Executive Director Marc Avni addressed city council last week to talk about the East County Senior Center bus program.
The small bus offers transportation to both seniors and disabled residents of Monroe who would otherwise be homebound. The bus operates every Monday, Thursday and Friday, taking citizens shopping, to the bank or medical appointments, or to visit friends.
“In the last two years our ridership has increased 59 percent,” said Avni.
He also said the bus is good for the economy.
“Their money helps support commerce in the city,” said Avni. “It’s a win-win.”
The bus also offers many special day and weekend trips. Seniors can have dinner in Bothell at the Bonefish Grill, enjoy the Seattle Underground Tour or go shopping at IKEA in Renton. These special trips take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and on weekends, and vary from month to month.
“The program is really very successful,” said Avni. “So much so, that the United Way has seen fit to give us one of only two or three transportation grants in the county.”
The Senior Transportation Program operates on a $5,000 grant from United Way, a $9,000 community projects grant from the city of Monroe, and riders are asked to give a $1.50 donation if they can.
“We never refuse anybody a ride if they can’t,” said Avni.
Avni explained to council that last year the bus needed over $2,000 in repairs and currently has around 85,000 miles on it. The repair expenses, coupled with the high cost of fuel, is a cause for concern to Avni, who stated that, despite their best efforts, the program was more than $8,000 in the negative last year.
He asked council to consider increasing the grant amount, offering a brief account of an associate of his who works for the Snohomish Senior Center who went before the Snohomish City Council to ask for $34,000 in support.
“I would never do that,” said Avni.
Avni reported that the city of Snohomish declined to increase their support to $34,000, telling his associate that he would have to be happy with the $12,000 grant they were willing to give him. Avni, citing the known competitive element between the cities of Monroe and Snohomish, garnered laughs from Mayor Zimmerman and council as he stated that he approved of the $12,000 amount.
“It’s a good number,” said Avni.
GENERAL FUND BUDGET PRESENTATION
Council was given a presentation on the 2014 preliminary budget’s general fund detail.
The budget included a $1,000 dollar increase for the Senior Center Transportation program, bringing the grant amount up to $10,000. Council discussed adding to that amount.
“This is a great program,” said Councilmember Jason Gamble. “I personally think that we should be looking to try to fund that to the best of our ability.”
Council, along with Mayor Robert Zimmerman, concurred with the need for an increase.
“The support was higher at one time,” said Zimmerman. “The economy had caused us to lower that support.”
Councilmember Tom Williams agreed with an increase.
“I’d like to see the number go up,” said Williams. “I would support $15,000.”
Council agreed to increase the grant amount to $15,000 and requested that city staff obtain written documentation from the senior center on the specifics of the transportation program’s expenses.
The preliminary 2014 general fund budget also includes five new full-time employees, including two police officers, one parks maintenance worker, a planning department employee and an administrator for the new municipal court. The municipal court administrator is expected to be hired by July, 2014.
EAST MONROE REZONE
PACE Engineers Vice President Susan Boyd presented council with the final environmental impact statement for the East Monroe Comprehensive Plan Amendment and Rezone.
It concerns a 43-acre piece of property that lies to the north of U.S. 2 just outside of Monroe at the eastern end of the city. The comprehensive plan amendment would rezone the property from Limited Open Space to General Commercial. Boyd’s presentation included details about the constraints and limitations of developing the property, which include a stream, wetlands, shoreline, native growth protection area, steep slopes on the northern portion of the property and a floodplain.
The EIS allows for three options; a no-action option, which retains the current zoning, a general commercial option that is the proposed action, and a mixed-use commercial zoning option.
Due to the limitations of the property presented in the EIS, the developable area is limited to just over 11 acres. But despite the constraints presented, Boyd offered that development in this case could actually be helpful to the environment.
“The current condition of the site, the shorelines and wetlands, is poor,” said Boyd.
She stated that the potential habitat deterioration without corrective action was very apparent to her engineering firm, as well as to the scientists who participated in the study. She explained that the wetlands are degrading and invasive species have begun to take over, choking out the stream, particularly on the south portion of the property.
The draft environmental impact statement was issued in mid-August, and a public hearing was held on Sept. 5. Residents and agencies were given a 30-day comment period to provide feedback on the draft proposal, which ended on Sept. 13.
The rezone is facing opposition from citizens.
Anna Groeneveld of Groeneveld’s Dairy Farm, located on Fern Bluff Road in Monroe, submitted a letter to city council in opposition of the rezone.
“As a fifth generation farmer in the Monroe-Snohomish area, I recognize that changes occur,” wrote Groeneveld. “However, I encourage you as individuals to consider both the immediate and long-range consequences involved in rezoning this acreage.”
The Washington State Department of Ecology also weighed in on the draft, stating concern over the loss of agricultural resources.
The final draft of the environmental impact statement includes updates reflective of the comments received in opposition of the proposal. An itemized listing of submitted concerns and the engineering firm’s responses, when given, are included in the final EIS document.
The shift to general commercial zoning would allow for many land use opportunities that are currently unavailable to the property in its limited open space zoning. General commercial zoning allows for convenience stores, grocery stores, coffee shops, motor vehicle stores, restaurants, taverns, carwashes and many other options currently disallowed.
Current limited open space zoning allows for single-family residences, garden or produce retail, agricultural uses and more. A full list of what is permissible within these zoning regulations is available on the City of Monroe’s website.
Council was given the opportunity to ask questions.
Councilmember Patsy Cudaback inquired about the statement that the rezone proposal is in response to a measurable demand for developable commercial property located along U.S. 2. She requested clarification on whether or not there currently is a demand for property located on the highway.
“It’s mentioned three or four times in the beginning of the document,” said Cudaback. “Is there any evidence that substantiates that claim?”
Boyd stated that the original notion for that determination came from the property owners. Paul Popelka, the city’s planning and permitting manager, explained that within the city limits, there is a lack of commercial land available along U.S. 2.
“Most of what we have is in the North Kelsey area,” said Popelka. “We have a fairly finite supply of commercial ground.”
It is anticipated that council’s final action on the East Monroe Rezone will take place in mid-December.