Auto dealership approved; Apartment complex denied

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By Carolyn Roy, carolyn@natchitochestimes.com

It was full speed ahead for a new automobile dealership on Hwy. 504 as the City Council denied an appeal from nearby property owners at its meeting Monday. The City Planning and Zoning Commission, at its July 3 meeting, approved the request of Mark Hebert and Kyle Smith to subdivide property at the northwest intersection of La. Hwy. 504 and University Parkway. T

hey plan to build an automobile dealership and office building at that location. Members of the Poe family, who own nearby property, filed an appeal with the City Council. After a discussion with comments from both sides, the council voted unanimously to uphold the planning commission decision to allow Hebert and Smith to subdivide the property. Councilman Eddie Harrington offered that the meeting was to address subdivision of the property, not to rezone it.

Harrington said that since the property has been zoned B-3 commercial for nearly 20 years, the owners could start construction “tonight” without City approval. Speaking in favor of the appeal were Donald and Edwina Hayward, Sam Riley and Dianne and Jonah Poe. “We have two groups of citizens here tonight, each with very different desires,” Dianne Poe said. “One group wants to divide up land, develop businesses and profit financially. The second group wants to commute safely on Hwy. 504, have undeterred accessibility to their homes by emergency services or healthcare professionals, to sleep well undisturbed at night, and in my mother’s case, to die peacefully in her own home. You represent both groups. With leadership comes responsibility and accountability. Please get involved, ask tough questions and come up with real solutions. Residents, as well as businesses, have rights.”

Poe referred to a 2017 La. DOTD report that said the intersection of La. 6 at La. 504 is considered an abnormal intersection based on the crash rate with overrepresented crashes of left turn, right turn, right angle and side swipe crashes. Poe asked that the City and LaDOTD address the problems before and not after construction. Mayor Lee Posey told the residents that he had consulted with La. DOTD about activity near I-49, particularly in relation to the City’s recreation park being built on University Parkway.

He said the agency started a study that is nearly complete and has the goal of building a round-about to make Hwy. 504 safer. As for noise, Posey said the City has ordinances that limit noise such as that from construction and night operations. Hebert said that safety was important to the developers who planned to build a nice, state-of-the-art, good looking building that would be an asset. He said he was not aware of noise in the evenings at a dealership and that automobile deliveries take place between 10 and 11 a.m.

Construction at the site will begin in about six months, at the earliest.

On the other hand, developers who want to build a 40-unit apartment complex on Texas Street near Nolley Drive weren’t so successful. The Planning and Zoning Commission, at its July 3 meeting, approved the request of Madison Pierce to rezone four acres at 1909 Texas St. from R-1 one family residence to R-3 multiple-family residence. By a vote of 3-2, the council overturned the decision after hearing pleas from some 95 percent of the residents who live on Nolley Road.

Terry Bechtol said there was nothing positive, but there were a lot of negatives for the complex that would be near an area where many retired residents lived. He is not against the apartment complex, just against it being in that location. “Put your self in my place,” he told the council. “Would you like to look at the back side of an apartment complex? Folks will say what they think you want to hear. There’s plenty of other property. Don’t do this to us.”

Jerome Gentry said it would be in his front door and would be an eyesore causing congestion.

Thomas Phelps said it would be directly in his back yard. “I ask you kindly, don’t do this to us.”

Jennifer Stanfield spoke for her parents, the Elkins, who live on Nolley Road and said the second story would look into their home. She said that over time, the buffer fence would fail and the complex would not remain new and pretty.

Pierce said there was a need for housing in Natchitoches and his complex would be a high-end development. “Lots of folks here live next to multi-family areas,” Pierce said of the property that is surrounded by multi-family units. He said someone else would develop the property if he didn’t and his plan was the highest and best use.

His wife, Crystal Pierce, said she heard the concerns and believed that changes were fearful to some. “We have no intent to create upheaval or something less than nice…we want to help beautify the parish.” She said the complex would be of quality and not a typical apartment complex, but cozy and home-like with natural elements. She said it would not be a high-rise and would not tower over nearby homes.

After the vote, in which Council members Lawrence Batiste, Sylvia Morrow and Don Mims voting nay, Posey said the hardest thing a councilman had to do was represent both sides.

On one other planning and zoning issue, the council approved the request of James Melvin Clark to rezone a lot on Bossier Street from R-2 multiple family residence to R-3 multiple family residences to build a four-unit, two-story apartment building. At the request of Councilman Eddie Harrington, it was passed with the stipulation that the unit not be federally subsidized. The owner must return to the council if he wants the unit to be subsidized.

Harrington said there was not a great need for subsidized housing in Natchitoches and more such units could create a problem of vacancies. According to Harrington, the numbers of people living in subsidized house is decreasing as is the number of applicants.