Anti-WalMart legislation passesFeb 1st, 2011 | By Michelle Provencher | Category: top story
“It’s not the name of the store; it’s the development we need to be cognizant of here.”
-Keith Hinkley, Councilman District 2
Retroactive nature of ordinance questioned; Public hearing scheduled Feb. 16
A temporary moratorium halting commercial construction in Belle Chasse was unanimously passed by the Plaquemines Parish Council, with a retroactive start date of Jan. 1, 2011. The move was meant to stop the development of a proposed 115,000 square-foot Wal-Mart.
Councilman Keith Hinkley, District 2, introduced the legislation at the last council meeting on Jan. 13 after Houston-based Realm Realty applied to build a shopping center and Wal-Mart on the corner of Belle Chasse Highway and Woodland Highway. The ordinance was approved – with changes – at the council’s most recent meeting on Jan. 27.
The most important change would make the ordinance effective as of Jan. 1, 2011, as opposed to the date it was passed. The moratorium lasts until Dec. 31, 2011, or the completion of the Master Plan.
Hinkley’s legislation “prohibit(s) the issuance of permits by any Parish Department or Agency for the construction, renovation or remodeling of any commercial property within the boundaries of District 2, District3 and District 4.” Still, the council reserved the right to grant special approvals if they believe conditions set by them are satisfactory.
“In lieu of what’s going on right now, we’re in the middle of creating a Master Plan,” said Hinkley at the meeting. “We need to continue in partnership with that, and identifying what areas need to be developed with certain types of developments.”
One member of the community, Arthur Henry, asked a straightforward question undoubtedly on everyone’s mind.
“If this passes, would that kill the Wal-Mart project?” asked Henry. “The people have got to know.”
Hinkley said the moratorium will not necessarily kill the potential shopping center, and that the developer, Houston-based Realm Realty, has the option to sit down with the council and talk about it.
“If it’s conducive to what we want and what we need in the area, and it goes along with the drainage issues and the traffic issues,” Hinkley said it could be permitted. “It’s not the name of the store; it’s the development we need to be cognizant of here.”
Moretco, Inc., a company under Realm Realty, has already submitted their construction permit application. A letter was sent from the Plaquemines Parish Department of Permits, Planning and Zoning that said the permit was received and satisfied the land use requirement for the property.
The moratorium would prevent Realm Realty or Moretco from receiving the permits necessary to begin construction on the shopping center.
“Generally, retroactivity is not permitted but only in limited circumstance,” said Robert Barnett, an attorney the council has contracted heavily with over the last few years. “There are limited exceptions.”
Barnett explained that in the past the state legislature has passed law retroactively.
Barnett said he was not consulted for the drafting of the legislation, and did not see the final legislation until the change was made during the meeting.
Attempts were made to reach several of the parish attorneys, with no response.
Hinkley said the retroactive start date is legal, and the council has acted similarly in the past.
The councilman pointed to a truck stop that was planned to be built in District 4 several years ago. A moratorium forbidding all construction was passed after the developer had submitted its permit application, so the ordinance was passed with a start date beginning prior to the date of the application. However, their action was never challenged.
The moratorium was green-lighted by his legal team, said Hinkley. He would not divulge the members of this legal team, nor was it clear if this was paid or unpaid legal advice.
“It’s not just a one man dig here,” Hinkley said. “I’m being consulted legally, and by a planning and zoning group also. I’m being highly advised.”
Though the shopping center may be derailed, at least temporarily, other local businesses which applied for permits since Jan. 1 may not be.
The moratorium would not affect retail establishments which received their license this year, only businesses that have merely applied for a permit or license and have not yet received it.
“If it’s been issued then it’s in compliance,” said Hinkley. “But if it’s been applied for, then it goes back to January 1.”
Hinkley’s other construction ordinance, which would amend the Comprehensive Building Regulations for the Parish of Plaquemines, would permanently limit the size of commercial construction in Belle Chasse to 25,000-square-feet, less than a quarter of the size of the Wal-Mart store in the works.
However, the legislation was deferred to the next meeting to allow a public hearing for any and all comments regarding the text changes to the building regulations. The hearing is scheduled for Feb. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Belle Chasse Auditorium.