By Carolyn Roy | News Editor
Over 500 people signed a petition against a proposed subdivision on St. Maurice Lane and members of the City of Natchitoches Planning and Zoning Commission heard their concerns Tuesday during a special called meeting. Five members of the commission including the Rev. Bobby Claiborne, Anita Dubois, Isaac Lewis, Ethel Blake and Ron Brown voted against the application of Rowanoak Development LLC of Jackson, Miss., to subdivide 12 acres in the Glendale Subdivision into 37 lots for single-family homes.
Anyone has 10 days from the meeting to file an appeal. It will then be heard by the City Council and must be docketed within 45 days. The final decision could rest with the City Council.
Chairman Charles Whitehead III insisted there would be order and no outbursts among the approximately 40 people there to protest. He allowed developer David Strange to make his presentation, then allowed audience members to speak. He listed questions they had for Strange. When the audience members finished speaking, Whitehead posed their questions to Strange. He allowed no “cross talking” between the audience and Strange.
Director of Planning and Zoning Shontrell Roque began the discussion saying no new zoning was required and the developer had met with planning commission representatives and City officials; plans met City ordinances; plans were reviewed by the City water, sewer, electrical departments and fire department; City engineer reviewed drainage calculations; Parish Government and the Natchitoches Levee and Drainage Board approved the plans; and the developer requested no variances.
Strange said the subdivision would have single-family homes that would be LEED certified with Energy Star ratings; have curbs and gutters; underground utilities and street lighting; and restrictive covenants. The subdivision would be fenced with a limited access gate at the front with one way in and one way out. The lots would be 8,400 square feet, more than the required 7,200 required by City ordinance. The average cost would be $225,000 for a home with 1,500 square feet, a two-car garage and be built from seven or eight prototypes.
Strange said the subdivision would be a $10 million investment with use of local building suppliers. The company is a general contractor but plans to use local subcontractors. Depending on the cost of lumber, construction could start this fall or early spring with completion in 12 to 24 months. It didn’t seem to take long for commissioners to express opinions about the potential hazards for the subdivision in that location
Claiborne said that on certain days, “two Ford pickups can’t travel in the same space.” Claiborne said St. Maurice Lane can’t handle traffic on a normal day and until the width of the road is increased the subdivision would have a drastic effect on the traffic flow. Strange said he was not an expert in that field.
Dubois, an educator, said she was concerned about the increased traffic, already a mess, near three schools, M.R. Weaver, East Natchitoches and St. Mary’s.
Lewis also commented on the number of school children near the location. He said fire trucks entering the subdivision would not be thinking about the number of students in the area.
Blake also had concerns for the number of children and the already heavy traffic. Brown cited similar concerns as well those about additional water runoff from the steep roofs and large amount of concrete.
Roque said that the calculations were in compliance with storm water regulations as certified to by City engineer Nick Verret.
Jack McCain Jr. was the first audience member to speak. He noted the number of petitioners against the subdivision and said St. Maurice Lane was the same width it was 50 years ago, still with inadequate ditches. He said the drainage was already bad and the additional houses would make it worse. He noted that 36 houses, with two vehicles each, would result in 72 additional vehicles a day. He also asked who would maintain the detention pond that would be buily to handle storm water overflow.
McCain then turned the microphone over to former fire chief Dennie Boyt. “I’ve always opposed any development with one way in and one way out,” Boyt said. He continued that fire trucks could get trapped since numerous emergency vehicles would be there if there was a fire. “It just won’t work.” He said neither the City nor the levee and drainage board had done a good job with drainage nor keeping the ditches cleared. “It’s not a good time for another development.”
Claiborne asked how the area could handle multiple fire trucks if there were social events at houses there. Whitehead then said there was a 69-page petition opposed to problems with drainage, congestion, a community center, water flow and maintenance of the detention pond. He also cited numerous emails and letters against the development.
Realtor Zack Middendorf said the issues of safety, emergency response and traffic were paramount. He then talked about property values. He questioned if the lots were wide enough saying they were not preferable and the ordinance requirements were old. He said a majority of buyers want elbow room, more road footage and more distance between houses. Realtor Janice Bolton said she owned five properties near the site and square footage was not a good measure.
Other questions asked were would the City take in the subdivision to which Whitehead said it would because that is required by law. The City will also inspect the water, sewer and drainage infrastructure. Latricia Walker said in 2005, she wanted to subdivide her property on St. Maurice Lane for elderly housing but was denied. She said the traffic has gotten much worse and a vehicle hit her mailbox. She didn’t understand how another developer could be approved when she was not. also said she believed the developer would bring in their own construction workers and materials.
Terry McQuillan, who lives near the proposed site, said rain water already goes in his house. He said the parish has drainage problems and recently received funds to enlarge the East Natchitoches drainage ditch. “And there’s no way kids can cross the street on their own.” He asked if the houses would be government subsidized, would the detention pond be fenced and would there be adequate parking at the community center.
Tyler Murchison questioned if the developer had plans to develop more land since there were surveying stakes near the ballpark. He said the picture submitted by the developer was not accurate. He asked if anyone could buy the homes, would local banks do the financing and would the houses be lease-to-buy. Murchison said he was opposed considering the number of problems.
Other speaking in opposition were Glen Sers, Carl Jones, Jimmy DeBlieux and Roger Chatman.
In answering the questions, Strange said the detention pond would not be fenced separately but be within the fence around the subdivision. He said the company would set aside $65,000 as the beginning of a way to maintain the common ground that included the pond. Then it would become the responsibility of a homeowners association that would form after the last home is sold. Some 100 percent of maintenance would transfer to the homeowners. He said he was unsure if the houses would be sold or tenant-owned.
As of now, the company has financing for purchase of the property and infrastructure but not to build the houses. The drainage would be into the East Natchitoches drainage ditch. Strange said he didn’t know about City plans but the project would have “zero” impact. Brown was critical of the fact that Strange’s own engineer, paid by him, made that decision. As for other investments, the company has rental properties in three other Louisiana cities and in one in Mississippi. The Glendale Subdivision and one project in Shreveport are the company’s only single-family owned homes.
As of now, there is no plan for future development on the St. Maurice site. Whitehead then turned to the commissioners for final comments. Dubois said the subdivision was a wonderful concept but she was concerned about it being so near the schools. Lewis agreed saying he too was concerned about safety of the school children.
Blake said she listened to the remarks of the audience because she had been where some of them are now. She said her concerns were about the school children and whether the houses would be owner-owned or rental.
The Commission denied the proposal by a unanimous vote.