Heritage Baptist Church, after years of being unable to develop its East Monroe property under current zoning, is set to sell its 43 acres of land north of U.S. Highway 2 to the City of Monroe, with conservation nonprofit Forterra assisting with the purchase.

With the Monroe City Council’s approval, staff will work with Forterra to have the nonprofit purchase the 43-acre property from Heritage Baptist Church, giving the city up to three years to repay the cost with grant funding.

“It does involve a little bit of risk,” said city administrator Deborah Knight during the Aug. 21 Monroe City Council meeting. “I think it does provide a win-win, for everybody, and that win happens to be a whole lot sooner under this scenario than if we chose to wait and see whether or not we can collect the money through another couple of years worth of grants.”

Forterra’s mission is to secure and preserve keystone lands for farmland and wilderness, especially along the Great Northern Corridor, which stretches about 70 miles from the Salish Sea to the end of the Sky Valley.

The city had reached out to the group for a letter of support when applying for — and later receiving — a $500,000 Snohomish County Conservation Futures Board as part of its effort to acquire the property. That resulted in a meeting.

“Forterra has a goal to rebuild the economy of the Skykomish Valley by conserving natural resources, providing outdoor recreation opportunities and revitalizing valley communities,” according to council documents.

Heritage Baptist submitted an initial application for a rezone of its property in 2010. Resident Lowell Anderson first contested a related environmental study in 2012, and again the following year. About a half dozen other residents joined Anderson in petitioning.

The state reviewed a 2015 environmental study and city ordinances adopted in 2016 that would have changed the land from limited open space into general commercial. That same year the state’s Growth Management Hearing Board ruled the study and ordinances were not in compliance with state regulations. The appellate court denied Heritage Baptist’s motion to reconsider in April.

Monroe’s Community Development director Ben Swanson brought a complication to the city’s attention after the state’s decision. The city could lose out on a $1.3 million grant that had been awarded for an unrelated stormwater facility improvement project in the area, but the city would have to be in compliance to receive it. That means keeping the land zoned as open space, which is the city’s intent.

This summer, when the stormwater grant was being discussed, Heritage Baptist pastor Thomas Minnick asked the council for more time. He hoped both groups could work together and come up with a plan. He didn’t want the city to risk losing a sizable grant.

“With all due respect, this action threatens to take far more away from us,” he said.

On top of the $500,000 grant from the conservation board, another $1 million, made up of two separate state grants, has already been applied for in order to purchase the property. The city will find out in mid-October if the grants made the 2019 legislative recommended funding list, according to council documents.

The city can also use real estate excise tax revenue to pay for the additional costs of working with Forterra. The city’s comprehensive plan must be amended to use those funds, according to council documents. Those added charges, which include interest and opportunity fees, could range between $196,000 and $500,000. Those rates will be even higher, between $221,000 and $540,000, coupled with the standard purchase and sale agreement costs, according to city estimates.

“I have a little bit of heartburn for what we’d be spending on this without any substantial benefit to our residents or our city,” said Councilmember Patsy Cudaback during Tuesday’s meeting.

The council took two meetings to discuss the proposed memorandum of understanding. They approved Mayor Geoffrey Thomas signing an agreement with Forterra, with Cudaback opposed.

The price for purchasing the land will be determined during negotiations with Heritage Baptist. The city will have to approve anything higher than the appraised fair market value, according to council documents — that appraisal has not yet taken place.

The memorandum includes negotiation guidelines for Forterra. Knight said the nonprofit is experienced in these kinds of transactions. 

Councilmember Kevin Hanford said he was concerned about the city taking on more land to manage. Councilmember Ed Davis said he was in favor of the acquisition — that he had been since it came up this spring.

“I would love to see this settled, and I would love to see it settled with everybody coming out with a smile,” he said.

The city may work on an extension with Forterra if it can’t come up with grants to pay for the property within three years. Knight said that did not seem like a high risk Forterra wouldn’t agree to an extension.

Forterra will try to acquire the land by mid-November, according to council documents.