LIVINGSTON – The Livingston Parish Council rejected a preliminary plat for a multifamily development in a subdivision adjacent to a rapidly growing residential corridor.
The 5-4 vote at the Jan. 10 meeting before a capacity crowd followed more than an hour of often-heated protests from opponents of Starwood Knoll. The proposed development would be located adjacent to Woodland Crossing, a subdivision which fronts Bonnie Blue Drive.
Starwood Knoll Development, proposed by Garry Lewis Properties, would occupy 10 acres of a 75-acre tract 200 yards from La. 447 in Walker off the south side of Interstate 12.
Council members Jeff Averett, Tracy Girlinghouse, R.C. “Bubba” Harris, Shane Mack and John Wascom voted against the plan. Councilmen Jeff Ard, Maurice “Scooter” Keen, Tab Lobell and Garry “Frog” Talbert approved the measure.
The vote against the plat drew a loud cheer from the crowd, most of whom opposed the development. The council’s decision came one night after the Livingston Parish Planning Commission gave the green light to the plan.
Concerns that the complex would put additional strain to infrastructure and create more congestion along roadways – particularly nearby Buddy Ellis Road – fueled the protests from residents.
“I can remember when there was one red light, I realize the parish is growing, and that we need homes to bring big business tax dollars and revenue, but if infrastructure can’t support that, why are we doing it?” resident Carlos Davila said. “I’m asking the council to use common sense, think about what you’re doing and if there’s a better way to what you’re doing.”
Road issues already pose a problem, resident Dee Dra Sellers said. She said her husband, a disabled veteran of the U.S. Marines, fell off a tricycle when he hit a pothole on Buddy Ellis Road.
“That’s a major liability, and you need to be aware that we have these kinds of problems out there,” Sellers said. “This is a war, and we won’t stop until we get what we want.”
Resident Jennifer Hossink asked how long the parish will continue to allow development of complexes. She said another complex on Buddy Ellis has stayed far under residential capacity, which has forced the proprietors to lower the rent.
“When is “enough” enough as far as complexes?” she said. “Are we going to get 10 more?”
The Parish Council cannot dictate what should be considered “enough,” District 2 Councilman Garry “Frog” Talbert said.
“We live in a free market economy, which means the market will decide when enough is enough,” he said. “Our job is to provide infrastructure, and we’re trying to juggle the rights of property owners versus the rights of individuals here, so our job is to make sure you’re not negatively impacted.”
Project engineer Billy Taylor of McLin-Taylor, Inc., spoke on behalf of Lewis, who made concessions to move forward on the development.
Taylor said Lewis has offered to develop a construction entrance on La. 447 to ease some of the traffic strain on the side roads. He also offered to perform additional drainage and traffic studies and build a park in the area for both the tenants and residents in the adjacent subdivision.
“We’re going to do that and follow the guidelines in place,” Taylor said. “Garry Lewis is trying to be a good neighbor and make this offer in good faith. “
The parish ordinances require developers to meet building specifications, as well as conduct traffic and drainage studies. The ordinances do not mandate where a single- or multi-family dwelling can locate, nor can it legislate location of a building zoned as residential or commercial, Parish Attorney Chris Moody said after the meeting.
Restriction on properties without lack of zoning could also open the parish council or individual members to a lawsuit, he said.
“They have to meet all those requirements, but to deny on a preliminary plat? The law is pretty clear,” Moody said. "The parish and even the parish councilmen individually could face liability for turning those down without valid findings.”
The lack of zoning leaves little or no ability for restrictions, Girlinghouse said.
The council must eventually resolve to make another push for zoning if residents want restrictions to growth, even though he realizes it may not work in all parts of the parish.
“I, too, remember when Walker was one lane, and sometimes I long for those days, but the growth in the Walker area and Denham Springs and Watson has exceeded the capacity of the infrastructure,” he said. “That’s a hard truth, but it’s the truth.
“I understand the eastern part of Livingston Parish doesn’t want the restrictions, but it’s a necessary truth that we all have to come to the realization that if we’re going to develop, we have to be smarter about it,” Girlinghouse said. “We need zoning – there’s only so much we can do.”
Zoning would be a hard sell, Keen said, but the council must eventually make the push.
“People say they want less government until they tell us “Tell them they can’t build it,” and then they want more government,” Keen said. “If we don’t start it by the end of 2020, shame on us … we need to do it.”
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