Opponents of a rezone of property at the east edge of Monroe took the fight to the Growth Management Hearings Board Thursday morning at City Council Chambers.
The first petition for a rezone of the 48-acre parcel located in the empty lowland to the right as one drives into Monroe from the east, came in 2004, as part of a larger parcel.
The landowners hoped to win the right to make the land available to commercial developers.
The matter was brought before the city a number of times, but never successfully.
Finally, one of the landowners, Heritage Baptist Church of Monroe, which hopes to sell the land for commercial development and fund a new church building with the proceeds, went on alone.
At the very end of last year, in a special session, the city council finally approved the rezone from limited open space to general commercial.
But some neighbors remained adamantly opposed.
An appeal to a city hearing examiner failed, so in April, the family of neighbor James Blair, along with Lowell Anderson and Doug Hamar, carried the appeal the the state Growth Management Hearings Board.
The board is tasked with ensuring that state laws regarding sprawl and rural land preservation are observed.
Friday, Misty Blair, a critical areas biologist and planner, presented the views of her family and other petitioners, including long-time opponent Lowell Anderson.
She argued that the environmental impact statement upon which the rezone application was based was flawed.
“Impacts to the resources of the citizens of Washington have been disregarded,” she said. She cited traffic, impacts to clean water, animal habitat, flood control, and an increase in stormwater runoff as items the EIS didn’t adequately address.
Also, she said, the EIS was based on the assumption that only 11 acres of that 48 acre parcel were actually developable, given the constraints on the land such as adjacent wetlands, a creek, a steep slope, floodplain and more.
But, she said, when the rezone was done, it was done for all 48 acres, and nowhere did the EIS study the potential impact of development on the entire parcel.
Doug Hamar, another neighbor of the site, presented his objections, as well.
He argued against the development based on a record of flooding in the area, levels of existing traffic on U.S. 2, and that the piece is not contiguous to other businesses on U.S. 2, but is separated by Woods Creek.
Other concerns he cited included noise, and measures to control flooding that he believes would not be adequate.
The city attorney, Zach Lell, then presented the city’s rebuttal.
“The technical evidence monolithically supports the city’s position, including arguments about wetlands analysis, noise, shoreline,” he said. “There’s no expert testimony that supports the petitioners.”
He also argued that currently, under Limited Open Space zoning, the property owners could place a church, a fitness center, a rendering plant or a number of other businesses there, and said that, therefore, general commercial development wouldn’t represent as significant an increase in potential development as it might seem.
During the petitioner’s rebuttal to the city’s statement, Blair objected to that assertion.
Those uses, such as a slaughterhouse, fitness center or daycare, aren’t all automatically approved for the Limited Open Space zoning, she said, but rather they would all require conditional use permits to build. What the city should have considered instead, she said, was the comparison between developing the land for commercial use or leaving it as it is.
The three members of the Hearings Board asked questions of each side.
Margaret Pageler asked how much impervious surface, or surface that water can’t penetrate, would be allowed under each zoning, and was told that currently 30 percent would be allowed, and under General Commercial Zoning 75-80 percent would be allowed.
Also there was some question about whether the petitioners had the right to challenge the ordinances that created the new land use designation for the land, as there was no evidence they’d commented at the time.
And Lell said that the city and the consultant team that created the environmental impact statement had indeed considered the impacts of development of the 11 acres to the area as a whole, but that there was no point in considered potential impacts of further development beyond those 11 acres.
“As a practical matter they are physically un-developable,” he said.
Cheryl Pflug and Raymond Paolella also posed questions, including questions about traffic impacts, and about why the rezone was for all 48 acres if only 11 could ever be developed.
Lell said that was the choice of the property owner in their application.
The board will render a decision by Aug. 26.