Despite concerns about warehouses, Monroe approves changes for land near I-75

Monroe City Council this week approved a zoning change for two pieces of property near Interstate 75 whose owners want to develop them for light industrial use.

The council previously rejected those two requests from the land owners, expressing concerns that the city is seeing too many warehouse projects and desiring more diversity in projects.

Motions were approved for about 164 acres near Greentree and Union roads that is currently was zoned as Business Park and 117 acres at Mason and Butler-Warren roads that is now zoned as general commercial.

The properties in question were previously zoned industrial until the late 1990s and early 2000s, when they were rezoned as commercial.

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Both requests sought light industrial zoning and had unanimously been approved by the city Planning Commission with a caveat that there be a moratorium on future industrial projects pending completion of a new comprehensive master plan in the next year.

During the votes to adopt both ordinances, council members Todd Hickman, Christina McElfresh and Jason Frentzel voted against rezoning the properties.

The rezoning ordinances will take effect in 30 days. During this time, council could come back and amend the ordinance or citizens can circulate petitions for a referendum on the matter.

For months, several council members have expressed concerns that its business and industrial growth is happening too quickly as well as concerns there are too many warehouses, logistics and e-commerce centers in the city. Some on council would prefer to see other businesses and companies providing higher income jobs in the city.

Lenny Robinson, whose company owns the 117 acres off Mason and Butler-Warren roads, told council at its March 26 meeting that a developer was interested in that property but was told by city officials any plans would have to wait until the new comprehensive plan was adopted.

Robinson said the developer was interested in building a 250,000-square-foot facility that would create 300 jobs and a $12 million annual payroll. He said each of those jobs would have an average annual salary of $40,000. Robinson told the Journal-News on Tuesday evening that the developer was still interested in the property.

After the vote, Robinson thanked council for considering the request.

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“Our commitment to Monroe is stronger than ever before and we’ll work hard to support Monroe,” he said. “We’re partners in wanting Monroe to be a great place to live, work and shop.”

Mike Berns, whose family owns the other 166 acres near Greentree and Union roads, thanked council for their consideration and said they “enjoy being in Monroe.”

On Wednesday, Vice Mayor Dan Clark declined to comment on the executive session discussion with the outside counsel hired by the city. He has previously said that there are enough warehouses in Monroe and has voted against tax incentives for those types of projects.

Clark said he concluded that the issue “would result in a protracted and lengthy litigation” that would be expensive and not beneficial for the city.

“I don’t believe we’d get the results we want,” he said.

Clark said the long-term plan is to get community input and work with everyone in developing Monroe’s new comprehensive master plan. As for future projects, he said council can achieve its objectives when it negotiates with developers for tax abatements and other incentives or for tax incremental financing requests.

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