COURT DECISION MAY COME MONDAY ON FRIENDS OF NORTH KELSEY APPEAL TO WALMART RULING
April 29, 2013
(MONROE, WA) -- On Wed, January 4, 2012 as part of the long fight by community members in Monroe to hold both the city council and Walmart accountable to the wishes of the community - as expressed in the vision and design plan the community put together years ago to insure the Monroe North Kelsey shopping district did not end up looking like a Lynwood-Highway 99 strip mall - Superior Court Judge Richard T. O’Krent ruled in an Everett court room against Friends of North Kelsey.
Democracy in action. Friends of North Kelsey at Hwy 2 & No. Kelsey in Monroe March 7, 2012. Sky Valley Chronicle photo. CLICK TO ENLARGE
The community group had sued the city of Monroe over the city council’s fast-track - and some say quiet, under-the-table - go ahead for Walmart to build a superstore just off Highway 2 near the Galaxy theater.
In a hearing that lasted only about half an hour the judge read his decision to both sides and it said, in essence, the city council could do anything it wanted in that area -- including ignoring the work and desires of a community that had purposely developed a comprehensive vision plan precisely so that some future council could not ignore the community's wishes.
It turned out that even though community members were very clear in their wishes and intent in the North Kelsey plan - they wanted for that area a small town, small community shopping experience, feel and look and they wanted it a pedestrian/family friendly place with green spaces, lots of open space and sitting areas - the community members on drafting the plan made the mistake of leaving just enough legal wiggle room in the plan for it not to have the force of law when it was needed, according to a lawyer familiar with the proceedings.
Thus the Mayor & city council were free to make pretty much any deal they wanted to with Walmart to bring in a massive store to dominate the city’s retail scene -- exactly what the community did not want.
O’Krent decided the city of Monroe had not erred at all in approving the Walmart land sale agreement and building design submission.
“They (city council) had the discretion to deny it…or approve it. He (judge O’Krent) gave them basically a lot of leeway and said, in so many words, he didn’t believe he had the authority to tell them what they should do or overrule their decision,” said Claudia Newman of Bricklin & Newmann, LCC of Seattle the firm that represents Friends of North Kelsey.
“In land use law there is a statute called the Land Use Petition Act and it defines the court’s role in reviewing a local jurisdiction’s decision. And it states that a court cannot substitute it’s own judgment…it can’t say I disagree with the council. The judge has to presume that the council is correct and you have to overcome that if you want to challenge the decision, that presumption, and prove that they made an obvious mistake,” added Newman.
In other words, community members had the deck stacked against them from the outset in that the court was forced by rule of law to presume prior to the first words spoken in court that the Monroe council acted appropriately and within the law.
“He (the judge) said he was going to defer to the city council, saying they had the authority to deny it under the guidelines or the authority to approve it. They basically had the authority to disregard the guidelines,” said Newman.
And that would have been the end of things except for an appeal.
On Wednesday March 7, 2012 Friends of North Kelsey announced a lawsuit to appeal the judge’s decision that gave the green light for Walmart to build this store.
And that brings us to today. In an Everett courtroom Monday a judge is expected to hand down a decision on that appeal.
And that presumably means you'll see a huge Walmart store right off Highway 2 at Kelsey Street in Monroe in the near future, or you won't.
Or something else.