By Polly Keary, Editor
Entering Monroe from the east, the border of town would seem to be Woods Creek. Just beyond the thickets that close over the small stream, Monroe’s business district begins.
But one actually crosses the town border slightly before that.
The edge of town extends east to include an empty, grassy field, the historic floodplain of Woods Creek, above which some of Monroe’s nicest homes perch along the rim of a high bluff.
It is a quiet place, but it has been the topic of nearly 10 years of noisy debate in Monroe; should it remain as it is, or should it be rezoned to allow commercial development?
Thursday, the two sides squared off for the latest skirmish in the long-running battle, as opponents to the rezone appealed to a hearing examiner to overturn a recently-written environmental impact statement (EIS) that supported the rezone.
The dispute centered on a dozen points of contention raised in the notice of appeal.
No Action Alternative
In an EIS, the engineers are supposed to consider the possible outcomes of alternative uses of the land. One of the alternatives is to do nothing.
The engineers took that to mean keeping it under the current zoning of Limited Open Space, which allows for one house every five acres, or various types of agricultural uses.
The engineering firm also included daycares, fitness centers and churches in its analysis of that alternative.
The opponents of the plan argued that the EIS should have included instead an analysis of what would happen if the land went on being used as it currently is; that is, not used at all.
“We assert that the failure to consider and analyze its existing use renders [the EIS] inadequate,” said Doug Hamer, who lives in the area. He went on to quote a letter from the Department of Ecology, which declared that considering a No Action Alternative that is a “significant departure from current conditions” does not create an adequate baseline.
When one builds something in a floodplain, floodwater that used to go there has to go somewhere else. The place where it goes is called flood storage.
In order to build on the nearly 11 acres that the property owner believes is developable, part of the land would have to be filled to raise it above the flood level.
Anyone filling in part of a floodplain has to replace the flood storage they’ve filled, usually by cutting away land elsewhere to make room for floodwater.
The engineering firm stated that adequate cutting and filling could be done without significant environmental damage; the opponents disagreed.
They argued that cutting and filling could cause damage the slope above the site, and also disputed that there was enough fill on the site to make it developable.
A major point of contention is how often that parcel floods, and how severely.
The firm included photos of the site taken during the flood of 2006 that showed most of it above water.
“Even when flood waters reached their highest elevations, the site remained above water,” the EIS stated.
But several area residents testified that the whole parcel was underwater in 2006, including Lowell Anderson, who produced his own set of photos showing the parcel submerged in 2006.
Currently there is no sewer, water or electrical service to the piece of property. In order to develop the land, the city would have to extend that infrastructure, for which the developer would pay.
The opponents contended that the EIS didn’t adequately address the environmental impacts of bringing the infrastructure to the site.
Concerns and comments
After the engineering firm Pace presented its first draft of the EIS to the city in September, there was a period of time for concerned people and agencies to comment. The final EIS, completed Sept. 27, was to address those.
“The city and the people at Pace paid full respect to the 109 comments received, and responded to all of them that were substantive,” said Boyd.
But the opponents differed, saying that comment hadn’t been sufficiently addressed, particularly a letter from the Department of Ecology that was critical of the EIS. The letter called the site “Ill-suited to more intensive development.” The letter also argued that the alternatives hadn’t been accurately considered, that the loss of agricultural land wasn’t adequately discussed, and that potential impact to critical areas had been “avoided and minimized.”
“When we read the DOE’s letter, there seemed to be a lack of clarity,” responded Boyd. She said that it seemed the DOE hadn’t understood the claims made in the EIS, and said that the firm had since met with representatives of the DOE in person, and had allayed some of their concerns.
The opponents told the Hearing Examiner that they didn’t think the EIS had done a good enough job of addressing potential traffic problems. The EIS found that development could generate 5,230 trips a day. The opponents said that backups on busy holidays and weekends hadn’t been adequately considered.
Economic Viability, more
The opponents of the rezone also argued that the land would be too expensive to develop to make rezoning it worthwhile, that the maps used in the EIS where incorrect and several other points.
Carl Cox, the Hearing Examiner, will consider the testimony provided by all who testified, and will decide if he thinks the EIS is valid enough to accept as part of the rezone process.
A previous EIS was rejected by a former hearing examiner as inadequate; this EIS was a more thorough version.
A decision is expected within two weeks.