Development Board votes to recommend zoning changeJun 24th, 2010 | By Frank McCormack | Category: news
B.C. townhouse project moves one step closer to reality
A large tract of land along Highway 23 in Belle Chasse moved a step closer toward being developed into townhouses June 16, thanks to a narrow 5-4 vote by the Plaquemines Parish Development Board to grant a zoning change from R-1 (residential) to RM-2 (multi-family residential).
Several dozen residents turned out for the meeting – some in support but most in opposition – to engage in an often heated debate over the project.
If approved at all levels of government, the proposed development could bring about 70 townhouses to the 10-acre tract, located at 8863 and 8873 Highway 23, according to property owners and developers Dallas Picou and Elizabeth Huckaby.
According to Picou, such a development is much needed in 21st century Plaquemines Parish. Owning a house and tackling all the outside maintenance that comes with it is not as popular as in past years, Picou said.
“The American lifestyle has changed,” Picou told the development board to start the meeting. “There are many professionals in Belle Chasse that work long hours and have few hours for outside maintenance.”
Picou also pointed to senior adults in the community who want the independence of their own home but the convenience of not having to deal with outdoor maintenance of the house.
The proposed two-story townhouses would offer a large carport and utility area at ground level, with living area 15 feet above the ground. The elevation and brick construction would stand up well against hurricanes, Picou said. Each unit would have about 2,000 square feet of living space. At first, Picou said he plans to build 44 units on the river side of Highway 23, with the first 10 going to his and Huckaby’s families.
The luxury townhouses, modeled after homes in the French Quarter, would sell for between $350,000 and $400,000, Picou said.
Proponents and opponents speak out
Residents living nearby the proposed development, as well as development board members, lined upto voice concerns and ask questions of Picou and Huckaby.
Some board members focused on drainage from the property.
“What are you going to do with the water?” board member Rodney Gunnell asked.
Picou told the board his and Huckaby’s properties have a total of five drain boxes that link up with the parish’s drainage system, along with three shallow ditches. The development would include subsurface drainage that would run from the river levee, under the railroad track, then to Highway 23.
Despite some disagreement from the board, Picou contended the development could actually improve drainage from neighboring properties.
As part of the permitting process, parish engineers would have to approve a yet-to-be designed drainage plan for the project.
Besides drainage, some residents at the meeting also argued the development would worsen an already difficult traffic congestion problem in Belle Chasse. With the Woodlands subdivision just south of the proposed development, along with everyday traffic on Highway 23, the additional traffic in and out of the new subdivision would only heighten the danger to drivers and pedestrians crossing the road.
Picou, though, downplayed the potential increased traffic, saying that many of the townhouse purchasers would probably move from elsewhere in the parish.
The overarching concern voiced by the board and residents alike, though, was the long-term success of the development.
“My concern, if I was an adjacent landowner, would be in 15 or 20 years will this become an apartment complex,” board member Jeffery Dimarco said. “How can you stop that from happening legally?”
“What safety measures are there to make sure that what’s on the promissory list is fulfilled?” board chairman Jerome Robinson asked.
Picou answered by explaining the difference between apartments, condos and townhouses, arguing that townhouses attract mainly homeowners who would properly maintain their property. He also said he would set covenants that purchasers would have to agree to. Those covenants would regulate proper maintenance of property and not allow the houses to be rented.
Nearby resident Joan Springer, though, assured the board that covenants were not always reliable.
“These covenants mean zero,” Spring said. “We live in the Woodlands. [The covenants there] disintegrated. Nothing.”
Mike Metcalf, superintendent of planning and zoning for the parish, said covenants are usually either taken very seriously or disregarded.
“I’ve seen both sides,” Metcalf said. “If they’re enforced, they can be very, very effective.”
The question was also raised about, if the board and the council approved the zoning change, could Picou and Huckaby instead opt to build apartments or condos, which would be rented. Robinson, though, argued that possibility was not under the purview of the board.
“I don’t think it’s our responsibility to second guess these people,” he said.
The board’s 5-4 vote to recommend approval of the zoning change was the same tally as two years ago when the same request from Picou came before the board – only that time the vote was 5-4 against the measure.
Voting for the change were board members James Honea, Jeffery Dimarco, Edward Derouen, Benny Bacas and Jerome Robinson. Steven Bledsoe, Rodney Gunnell, John Lacour and Dan Musmanno voted against the change. Anthony Duplessis was absent.
The zoning change will next come before the Plaquemines Parish Council, potentially as early as the council’s June 24 meeting.
Council member Stuart Guey, whose district includes the development site, said he had had a number of questions and concerns over the project.
“I met with Mr. Picou and voiced my concerns and he answered them,” Guey said. “If he proceeds with the plan he presented to me, I think it would be a positive thing for the community.”
“But he’s not finished,” Guey said. “He still has to go through the permitting process. We have to make sure he crosses his T’s and dots his I’s.”