Parish council votes down Garden City development
A developer proposing to build a 168-unit apartment complex in Garden City was denied a permit by the St. Mary Parish Council Wednesday to proceed with plans but vowed to continue his efforts to provide affordable housing.
The council meeting room in Franklin was standing room only with almost 100 people, most of them opposed to the development.
Lloyd Harris, chief executive officer of Harris Builders LLC, Marrero, said the $21 million gated complex would include a clubhouse and swimming pool with its 1- 2- and 3-bedroom apartments contained within 11 buildings on 11 acres of land facing La. 3215. His plans also included a second phase that would duplicate the first development.
The council first heard from Garden City residents Paul Frost, Shanon Wade, Bill Moore, Len Klutz and Kimberly Saucier, who all spoke in opposition to the development. Klutz also submitted a petition with almost 350 signatures of people “who don’t want this in our backyard,” he said. Many of the signatures were by people residing in Patterson, Berwick and Morgan City. According to comments, there are about 150 single family residential structures in the area along La. 182 east of Franklin on the route to Centerville.
Reasons cited for the opposition ranged from the burden the development would place on water and sewer systems, fire and police protections and the schools to how it would change the rural landscape.
“These people bought these houses because they wanted to be in the country,” Frost said. He added that the Centerville school “is already busting at the seams,” meaning the area would likely be redistricted shifting many of those students to Franklin area schools.
Wade said he moved from Patterson to his new house on Sawmill Street just two months ago because he “wanted to be out of the hustle and bustle in a country setting.”
“We just plain don’t want it, period,” Moore said.
Klutz said he was concerned about the added traffic the development would add to the area roads and suggested a more suitable location be found.
Saucier also questioned what impact the development would have on drainage after “you put down 10 acres of concrete,” as well as on the area’s fire insurance rating.
Franklin Fire Chief Chuck Bourgeois also provided data on the negative impact the development would have on water pressure and the ability to provide fire protection.
In response to all, Harris told the council infrastructure plans would include running a 12-inch waterline from another 12-inch line on La. 317 in Centerville. That plan was not included in Bourgeois’ calculations, as pointed out by parish Chief Executive Officer Henry “Bo” LaGrange.
Harris also said he has determined that the development would best be suited with its own sewer treatment system.
“We’ve spent endless hours looking for the right location,” he said, and the La. 3215 area was pinpointed due to its high elevation as well as its proximity to the U.S. 90 interchange.
Pointing out that the property was rezoned from single family residential to high density residential in 2009 for a different proposal that failed to take shape, Councilman David Hanagriff of Centerville said that dynamics may have since changed and the council may have erred by not reverting back to the original zoning designation.
“This is spot zoning,” he said, with single-family residential zones on three sides. He added that the complex is just too large for the area, “It’s too much… we can’t handle it.”
He argued that he felt Harris was not forthright with the Planning and Zoning Commission on details such as the impact on fire protection.
Harris said that in earlier meetings with Hanagriff, “I did everything you wanted,” such as agreeing to move setbacks farther from the road and provide a green buffer.
He added that council approval to proceed would allow for engineering studies to be completed before construction could begin which would include conformity to all building codes.
John Mouton, a consulting attorney hired by the council for zoning issues said that since the council had said yes to rezoning the property in 2009 and just last month approved the subdivision of property on the site, put it on “a slippery slope,” in regard to potential litigation.
Lafayette government “has spent millions settling the lawsuits,” on similar situations, he cautioned. “It can be a bad situation,” he said.
Councilman Glen Hidalgo of Bayou Vista said he was elected as a voice for the people and therefore does not “worry if we can be sued.”
To reinforce the need for affordable housing, parish Economic Development Director Frank Fink pointed out that the Chamber of Commerce last year sold 4,000 copies of its list of rental properties. He added that while there are many houses on the market, “the housing stock is too old,” and would need modernization to be attractive to buyers.
“If we vote against this one, it will be very hard to get other developers to come,” he said.
Hanagriff’s motion to deny the development received a second from Hidalgo and passed on an 8-3 vote with Ken Singleton, Logan Fromenthal, Tim Tregle, Sterling Fryou, Albert Foulcard and Kevin Voisin in agreement. Voting no were Lionel Metz, Charles Middleton and Chairman Steve Bierhorst.
After the meeting, Harris said he intends to file a Fair Housing Act violation complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.