Zoning Board approves 25,000 sq. ft. capFeb 22nd, 2011 | By Michelle Provencher | Category: top story
Changes to the zoning regulations in Belle Chasse were the topic of a meeting of the Plaquemines Parish Planning and Development Board, and after much questioning, the board voted to officially recommend the changes. The next step will be a council vote.
The two alterations to the text of the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance would prohibit any commercial establishments larger than 25,000-square-feet in the Belle Chasse area without special approval, and also create a Planning and Urban Development board. PUD would screen new retail projects that are larger than 25,000-square-feet for the Planning and Development Board to make sure they fit other criteria.
“We’re dealing with a certain area in the Belle Chasse area,” said Councilman Keith Hinkley, District 2. “[25,000-square-feet] is the size of a building that we feel would be conducive.”
Hinkley said if buildings were any larger than that figure, more serious considerations would have to be made to drainage, sewage and water.
“This is what we can take, and what we can handle,” he continued.
In perspective, half of a football field without the end zone is 24,000-square-feet.
Hinkley maintained that construction in excess of 25,000-square-feet would not be impossible, only that there would be additional processes to be granted a building permit.
“Along with [the area limitation], there is a PUD process that it would go through,” said Hinkley at the public hearing. “It allows some flexibility, but also allows the community to have input.”
PUD would not only have two members from the community assigned to it, but the process would also require public comment forums.
Hinkley contested PUD would make a more formal process to commercial construction, and would generate more transparency. While members of the community at the meeting expressed a desire for more government transparency, they also argued that PUD would just be another level of bureaucracy.
“I’m in favor of anything that offers transparency,” said Robert Lee, a resident of Plaquemines Parish. “The best we can come up with is one person from our area being on it? Maybe I don’t support it.”
Planning and Development Board member at-large, Dan Musmanno, followed suit with the public objections.
“Are we just creating a bureaucracy here?” asked Musmanno. “Is this something that we really don’t need?”
Both text amendments were introduced by Hinkley in a single ordinance at the Jan. 13 council meeting.
The legislation was deferred from being voted on by the council at their meeting on Jan. 27 to allow time for a public hearing, held at the Planning and Development Board meeting on Feb. 16.
The proposed changes come on the heels of the submission of a building permit application from Moretco, a Nevada and Texas-based real estate developer, with connections to Realm Realty.
Moretco applied for a permit to construct a shopping center in Belle Chasse on the corner of Highway 23 and Woodland Highway – encompassed by Hinkley’s district – complete with a 115,000-square-foot “discount department store,” labeled a Wal-Mart in their site plans.
To see site plans, visit www.realmrealty.com. Information is listed under “Belle Chasse Village Shopping Center.”
After a retroactive moratorium on commercial construction was approved at the Jan. 27 council meeting, Moretco filed for an injunction against Plaquemines Parish.
Even so, if the parish council approves the text amendments to the ordinance at their next meeting on Feb. 24, it is unclear if it would have any bearing on Moretco’s project.
Michael Metcalf, superintendent of permits, planning and zoning, said at the public hearing that if the council passes the legislation, it will affect applications submitted if the permit has not yet been issued.
Under Metcalf’s assumption, a Wal-Mart would have to go through the PUD process since their building permit has not been issued.
However, Regal Bisso, an attorney and the legal consultant to the Planning and Development Board, disagreed with Metcalf.
“The law that applies to an application is the law when it was filed,” said Bisso.
Bisso first said the text amendments would not stand against Moretco’s Belle Chasse shopping center, but then backtracked, and concluded that “it is not a black and white issue” and “it is a very murky area.”
“Simply filing an application doesn’t give you a vested right,” Bisso said.
The Planning and Development Board voted on the matter, and unanimously supported Hinkley’s ordinance changes, with the exception of Jeff DiMarco, Distict 5, who had to abstain from voting due to a conflict of interest, and Nerissa Miller, of District 6, who was absent from the meeting. There is one vacant seat on the Planning Board for district 7.