By Chris Hendrickson, Contributing Writer
The city of Monroe held a joint meeting on Tuesday with representatives from the consulting firm Studio Cascade, a community design planning team that has been retained to develop the city’s updated Comprehensive Plan. Members of Monroe City Council, the Planning Commission, the Parks Board and the Citizens Advisory Board were in attendance.
The results from Monroe’s Visioning Workshop held last month were presented, along with a timeline of the design and update process. Studio Cascade Principal Bill Grimes provided an outline of the process that will include four separate components; a Comprehensive Plan update, Transportation Plan update, Parks and Recreation Plan update, as well as a renewed economic development strategy.
“So this is an opportunity to knit together four very, very important policy documents,” said Grimes.
The team will be partnering with several consulting firms as the focus shifts to each of the plan’s different elements. This month, Leland Consulting has been focused on economic development; and next month, the team will be working with transportation consultants Fehr & Peers to develop the transportation plan.
Other consultants include civil engineering firm AHBL, experts in land use planning, and EA Engineering, providing environmental data and assessments.
Three intensive planning capsules will take place as a part of the discovery process. February has been focused on economic development, March will be transportation month, and the parks and recreation capsule will be held in April. Community workshops will be organized throughout each capsule to obtain public opinion and input.
The goal is to have the plans composed by early spring for review by the Parks Board and Planning Commission, after which they will move on for City Council approval. The deadline for adopting the Comprehensive Plan update is June of 2015.
“We’re going to try to beat that deadline,” said Grimes.
Grimes highlighted areas of focus from last month’s Visioning Workshop, and shared what they learned from members of the Monroe community. Some of the areas which folks considered to be a high priority included improving connections between neighborhoods; improving river access; revitalizing the downtown area; attracting higher-paying jobs; making local business a priority and preserving the community’s hillsides.
Areas of lower priority included increasing the overall intensity of development; accepting higher peak-hour congestion for greater walkability, and urban area expansion. Another area that reflected a degree of ambivalence was highlighting Monroe’s reputation as a community in which folks live but not work, otherwise known as its “bedroom community” reputation.
Leland Consulting Group Principal Brian Vanneman presented next, giving insight on what his firm has learned about Monroe so far and what that means in conjunction with economic development.
Snohomish County is estimating a population increase for Monroe of approximately 21 percent from 2011 through 2035, with more than 4,700 new residents. Another point brought up was that Monroe has a high number of families; 47 percent of Monroe households include children living at home. This is compared with an average of 32 percent in the Puget Sound region.
Other data was presented including: 20 percent of households in Monroe are Hispanic; 96 percent of all housing permits issued from 2000 to 2013 were for single family homes and 85 percent of residents work someplace other than Monroe.
Vanneman addressed Monroe’s retail situation, which reflects a high number of grocery stores, gas stations, office supply stores and sporting goods establishments. Lacking are department stores, clothing stores, electronics stores and restaurants.
“There’s a potential for more restaurants, which I was surprised by,” said Vanneman. “It’s something we can look at more, but that data is saying that pretty strongly.”
Some of the priorities-related feedback received and analyzed by Vanneman’s firm thus far relating to economic development has included:revitalizing the downtown; focusing on family-friendly amenities; building destination Monroe’s “The Adventure Starts Here” theme; attracting more manufacturing, professional and technical service jobs; attracting more retail establishments; beautifying U.S. 2; using Monroe’s diversity as an advantage, as well as proceeding with the U.S. 2 Bypass.
Studio Cascade has incorporated a visual technique into their project management strategy to help them track critical components of the overall process called the Vision Tree. The Vision Tree presents a colorful snapshot that visually outlines the key structural aspects of the project including community design, land use, transportation, economic development, facilities and services, housing, parks and recreation and the environment.
The Vision Tree will be used to track goals, policies and programs.
Monroe Mayor Geoffrey Thomas paused after the presentation to thank attendees. He acknowledged the members of the Planning Commission, City Council, the Parks Board and the Citizens Advisory Board.
“I just want to take this opportunity to thank all of you, from my heart, for the work that you do,” said Mayor Thomas.
The city would like to encourage Monroe-area residents to review and interact with the Envision Monroe website: http://envisionmonroe.org/. A complete PowerPoint presentation from Tuesday’s meeting, including the Visioning Workshop data, can be found here under ED Capsule 022515.pdf: http://www.studiocascade.com/general/Monroe/ED/.