LIVINGSTON – A possible return of discussion on zoning has drawn support from parish council members in the northern and western portions of the parish who believe the issue, but it’s a different story in other areas.
Parish council members from the southern and eastern portion of Livingston Parish do not believe zoning is a viable plan for their districts.
The discussion will likely resurface with the Livingston Parish Council, although it will mark the first time the current council has addressed the issue, which has been almost taboo since the group took office in 2016.
District 7 Councilman Tracy Girlinghouse brought the proposal to the Livingston Parish Ordinance Committee and urged formation of a panel to review the 2013 Master Plan as a starting point in the discussion.
Other council members who expressed a willingness to resume the discussion include Jeff Ard of Livingston, R.C. “Bubba” Harris from the south end of Denham Springs, Maurice “Scooter” Keen of Denham Springs, and John Wascom, also of Denham Springs. Garry Talbert of Watson also said he favors zoning.
Parish Council members Jeff Averett, Shane Mack, and Tab Lobell do not believe zoning is necessary in their areas, all of which are rural.
“Residents in my district aren’t ready for it and don’t want it,” said Mack, the council chairman who represents the Albany area. “People don’t want to be told what they can do with their land.”
The zoning issue came into play during discussion of the Starwood Knoll multifamily development, proposed for an area adjacent to Woodland Crossing, a subdivision of more than 1,000 homes. The Parish Council at its Jan. 10 meeting voted 5-4 to reject the preliminary plats after residents voiced concerns over traffic and drainage issues.
Billy Taylor of McLin-Taylor, the engineering firm for the project, rerouted the opening of the development from Bonnie Blue Road to La. 447 to reduce possibilities of traffic jams.
Garry Lewis also agreed to link the sewage with the parish system and rework drainage, all of which met compliance with the Livingston Parish Planning Commission.
The council on a return vote Feb. 7 approved the measure 8-1. District 6 Parish Councilman Jeff Averett cast the opposing vote to “stand behind his constituents,” but said the council could not stop Lewis.
“Even though I voted against it, Garry Lewis did everything he had to do and was in complete compliance, so there was nothing to stop him,” Averett said. “Had we stopped him again, each of us would have been sued individually.”
It doesn’t mean he favors zoning for his area.
Averett represents the fast-growing Walker South area, but his district also covers areas along the Amite from Port Vincent and east of French Settlement – all vastly rural.
Zoning has drawn support from the Walker South area, particularly after the Starwood Knoll plans. All other landowners staunchly oppose zoning, he said.
“If we set up zoning and leave out the rural area, I’m in favor of it,” he said. “If it means the entire parish, I’m against it.”
Larry O’Neil – head of Livingston Parish Gravity Drainage District 7 – says zoning could help ease the threat of over development in rural areas.
The issue will surface over and over again within the current landscape, he said.
“Without zoning, they could put a concrete batch plant right next door,” said O’Neil, who lives in Maurepas. “They could put a temporary dumping site next to a home … so many things they can do that the homeowner can’t do anything about.”
O’Neill believes the trend could change within the next 10 or 20 years in his area, particularly with the migration of residents who have moved from urban areas.
“They’re coming and they’re going to keep coming,” he said. “People who move here are accustomed to zoning, and it’s not a bad word to them, so the population that favors zoning will outnumber those against it.”
Issues such as Starwood Knoll, the Southern Aggregates gravel pit in Watson, and a gun range in Springfield have tested opposition to zoning for those residents – but not enough for everyone, said District 8 Councilman Tab Lobell, who represents the Springfield area.
The prospect of a gun range in a residential area drew concern for some homeowners, but others supported it, he said.
“We had half the residents saying they didn’t feel comfortable with it in the community, and another half saying that it was the man’s property and he had a right to do what he wanted with it, especially since we don’t have zoning.” Lobell said. “You won’t see me support zoning in my last 10 months as councilman.”
Mack, meanwhile, believes his area will remain opposed to zoning, even with the possibility of what could locate in the area.
“It’s just one of those things we accept if we oppose zoning,” he said.