Moretco drops suit seeking permitMar 15th, 2011 | By Terri Sercovich | Category: news
The proverbial ball is in Moretco’s court after the retail development company dismissed its suit against the parish without prejudice at a hearing on March 4.
Attorneys from both sides met in court with Judge John Peytavin, from the 23rd district, for what was a very brief hearing.
Both Plaquemines Parish’s 25th district judges, Joy Cossich Lobrano and Kevin Connor recused themselves. Lobrano’s husband is a legal consultant for the parish in this case.
Connor worked for several members of the current council as their lawyer before his 2008 election to the bench.
An attorney for Moretco from the law firm of Sher, Garner, Cahill, Richter, Klien & Hilbert of New Orleans, announced their dismissal of the suit without prejudice. Judge Peytavin asked parish council, Francis “J” Lobrano, a contracted attorney, and L.V. Cooley, Special Assistant Parish Attorney, if there was objection. With none, the hearing was over.
“It is my understanding that they want to sit down and talk,” said Lobrano after the hearing.
The dismissal of the suit is one of the latest skirmishes in the battle over the development of the land at the corner of Highway 23 and Woodland Highway in Belle Chasse.
Moretco, a sister company of Realm Realty, has made moves to develop a shopping center that includes restaurants, retail space, a bank and, most notably, a 115,000 square-foot Wal-Mart. See www.realmrealty.com for site plans.
Plaquemines Parish Council has countered each move to prevent the development. District 2 Councilman Keith Hinkley has been the public face of the resistance and has gotten two key-preventative pieces of legislation passed, one of which sparked the law suit.
The first was a moratorium on commercial construction. Passing unanimously on January, 27, the moratorium retroactively began on January 1. There was a 2010 moratorium that expired on December 31. Moretco filed for a building permit in the period between the expiration and the council’s first available day to pass the new moratorium. Although the permit department accepted the application, the permit has not yet been issued. Moretco filed suit against the parish on grounds that retroactive legislation was illegal.
“Up until the time a permit is issued, the parish has the right to change zoning,” said Lobrano.
The second key piece of legislation was passed last week. The zoning ordinance limits retail establishments to a size of 25,000 square-feet or smaller. When a permit is applied for that exceeds this size, the project must go before a Planning and Urban Development board. PUD would screen new retail projects that are larger than 25,000 sqft for other criteria. It would also give the public a chance to weigh in.
The 25,000 sqft cap not only eliminates the chances of a 115,000 sqft Wal-Mart, but also all other businesses within Realm Realty/Moretco’s plans.
The 25,000 sqft cap does not pertain to each structure on a piece of property. Instead, it covers all structures to be built on that land. For example, if a developer is applying to build six 10,000 sqft retail spaces on a single lot, the ordinance interpreters that as 60,000 sqft total. The project would then have to be approved by PUD before it can reach the next phase of development.
Both Jeff Moore, owner of Realm Realty/Moretco, and his attorneys were not able to be reached for comment before press time. But according to Lobrano, they have two options: 1- file suit again; or 2- go through the PUD process.