Council votes to demolish downtown eyesore
With a margin of 4-1, the City Council voted to condemn the crumbling apartments on Second Street. Councilpersons Lawrence Batiste, Dale Nielsen, Don Mims and Eddie Harrington voted yes with Sylvia Morrow voting no.
Mayor Lee Posey said he didn’t know when demolition would start but the ordinance states that the City “can move forward” after the ordinance is passed. The demolition must be bid. The loan on the property once known as the Summertree Apartments and renamed Hopeville, has been in default and Sterling Bank of Clayton, Mo., has sought to move rebuilding the complex forward.
Timothy Tryniecke, an attorney for the bank, pleaded the case to no avail. His main points were that the bank has invested $2.3 million in architectural, development and construction fees that will be lost as will over $3 million in tax credits to investors. He reiterated that it was not a zoning matter but one of land use. Tryniecke was at the City Council meeting July 22 when Mayor Lee Posey agreed to delay the condemnation process 30 days to see if progress was made.
Tryniecke said Monday that he would have a chain link fence erected to secure the property by Sept. 20 if the City would delay the condemnation. He also provided an affidavit from a contractor who agreed to complete the building in eight months as well as statements from architects verifying that the structures were sound.
The owner, Verlyn Foley, who lives in Alpharetta, Ga., defaulted on the loan for the project that began some three years ago. The complex was originally designed to house homeless veterans and other homeless with its value to investors being in tax credits. It was sanctioned by the Louisiana Housing Corp.,that approved the project without requiring the usual certificate of need from the City that was previously required to build low-income housing. The loan closed in August of 2016 and has encountered numerous delays including the initial contractor leaving the job. Work began again in November of 2018 but also stalled.
Posey, who said at the last council meeting he would do everything in his power to stop the project if he felt it were not good for the community, said there had been nothing done to secure the site with yet another proposal, for a fence, that still had not begun. As for housing for homeless veterans, Posey said he would find places for them in City of Natchitoches Housing Authority facilities if they qualified. His main concern was that the project had stalled after three years.
Councilperson Sylvia Morrow, who voted against the condemnation, said that she wanted to see the project move forward and said there was additional funding in Baton Rouge. Morrow said that 60 percent of the city’s population was moderate to low income and she thought a gated complex could fit into the Historic District and elevate the area. Morrow said tax credits should not be viewed as negative and developers should have a chance to move the project forward. She didn’t think the council members received enough information from developers since packets were presented only to City attorney Ronald Corkern at the meeting.
Corkern spoke about the availability of low-income housing through the City of Natchitoches Housing Authority. He said the agency was superior in its job to provide low-income housing but actually, the waiting list was minimal. He echoed Posey’s opinion that the project had taken too long. Councilman Dale Nielsen said the process had taken too long with little or no response until the buildings were put on the condemnation list. Councilman Eddie Harrington had three concerns.
The first was that the attorney provided information to Corkern but not to the council. The second was that nothing was done to secure the site and the proposal for a fence not made until the meeting. The third was whether the abandoned complex could have a negative impact on the Historic Landmark District designation. The second controversial issue was an appeal from of Dr. Ted Methvin to rezone 219 Williams Ave., to R-1 Special Exception to operate a dental office. The council unanimously upheld the Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision to deny the proposed rezoning. Those opposing the rezoning did so mainly because they felt it was spot zoning that opens the door for more commercial zoning in a residential section.
They were also concerned about additional traffic and property devaluation. There were eight people there to oppose the rezoning. Methvin made several points including that he believed it was an opportunity to do something positive. He said the structure was not “tucked into a quaint homogenous neighborhood” but was near a busy street with businesses near the back. He said the property had been on the market for 450 days, had been shown over 100 times and many wanted to convert it to apartments.
As for traffic, Methvin said his dental practice had from 20-25 patients a day, averaging two to four per hour. There is adequate parking in the back where traffic would exit and the office would be quiet after 5 p.m. and on weekends. He did not plan to make structural changes but would enhance the landscape. He said he wanted to keep a residential feel and cited that the construction of Wal-Mart and Parkway Cinema did not devalue the adjoining property.
The vote against the rezoning was unanimous.