City Council introduces quality of life agenda, but zoning concerns take center stage

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Nathan Wilson

A meeting of the Natchitoches City Council, Nov. 15 saw residents clash over commercial usage and development in East Natchitoches neighborhoods. A group of residents including Rand Metoyer, Karen Rachal and Gabriel Petite approached the city council in an impromptu expression of concern over the potential for traffic issues once Chick-fil-A opens for business. At the crux of their complaint, was a traffic outlet constructed to allow Chick-fil-A customers to exit the restaurant’s parking lot onto Keegan Street and the impact that vehicular traffic would have on the residential community.

Planning and Zoning Director Shontrell Roque responded to the controversy, by pointing out that the developer had submitted plans for the project to the City for approval, and that nearby residents had been informed of the proposal to construct the drive-through restaurant in advance.

She advised residents that since construction is complete, the appropriate timeframe for objecting to the establishment has passed. She also suggested that residents should reach the real estate developers to discuss mitigating their concerns with design features such as speed bumps and fencing. A second zoning dispute arose from an appeal lodged by Debra F. Arnold regarding the City Council’s decision to deny her request for a special exception for her house at 793 Whitfield Drive during a prior meeting on Sept. 6.

Arnold pointed out that neither city ordinances nor state laws adequately address short-term rental properties and questioned whether the city could reverse or nullify their prior decision. Arnold stated that her intention was to split her time between the home and a camp she owns in another parish, and that her plan was to offset her expenses by renting out the property occasionally. Carol Steadman, who also owns a home on Whitfield Drive, objected to the appeal on the basis that the neighborhood has a covenant restricting commercial activities. She stated that she had collected signatures from 172 neighbors who objected to use of the property for short-term rentals.

Councilor Eddie Harrington and City Attorney Alex Washington stated that although the city could rezone the property community members would still be entitled to pursue legal action to prevent Arnold from using the property for short-term rental purposes.

The City Council then voted to uphold the initial decision of the planning and zoning commission, and thus denied Arnold’s appeal.

•Final Ordinances: The City council voted to adopt the following ordinances: #066 The Council voted to revisit and adopt a Planning and Zoning ordinance to rezone property on the corner of Scarborough Avenue and East Fifth Street from B-1 Commercial to B-2 to facilitate sale of the property. The ordinance was previously tabled to allow for the lots involved to be appropriately subdivided.

#070 The Council approved a bid by Womack and Sons, LLC. to rehabilitate the wastewater lift station on Keyser Avenue at a cost of $561,194. #71 The Council voted to enter into a cooperative endeavor agreement (CEA) with the Louisiana Department of the Treasury and the State of Louisiana to provide $75,000 in funding to the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Program.

#80 The Council voted to amend the agenda to include ordinance 080, which amended the 2022-2023 budget to reflect additional grant funding received for renovations to Richardson Park. The amended budget allocates the grant funding for renovation of Richardson Park. The funds that the city had previously reserved for maintenance of the park will instead be available for the city swimming pool.

•Introduced Ordinances:

The City council voted to introduce the following ordinances:

Ordinance #72 would annex 0.405 acres along LA-6. The site is currently occupied by Move Sports and Spine. Ordinance

#73 would annex a 2.17 tract of land near LA-3278 north of University Parkway. The mayor clarified that the property owner requested annexation and is seeking to be connected to the city’s sewer system in hopes of selling the land for development as a restaurant.

Ordinance #74 would award the bid to Dixie Overland Construction for wastewater collection systems serving Grand Ecore and Mill Street to be rehabilitated at a cost of $497.485. One third of the project cost will be forgivable under the terms of financing by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

Ordinance #75 authorizes the City Marshal’s office to ticket vehicles that are deemed a danger to public health and welfare.

Ordinance #76 authorizes a CEA with Natchitoches Parish School Board to allow the city to provided additional administrative support for early childhood education.

Ordinance #077 authorizes the city to allocate $10,000 in American Rescue Plan funds toward removing and disposing of derelict vehicles. Under the plan, the city would reimburse a Pineville-based company to tow and store the vehicles until the owners have had an opportunity to appeal any municipal decision. City Finance Director Clarissa Brown Smith asked that the sum be increased to $15,000 to ensure sufficient funds for the project.

Ordinance #78 would approve the city’s acquisition of a lot located at 202 Williams Ave. for $145,000 to construct a park suitable for fishing and other non-boating recreation along Cane River Lake in coordination with the Caner River Waterway Commission. The Cane River Waterway Commission has agreed to provide up to $500,000 for development of the park.

Ordinance #79 would approve the sale of a hangar at Natchitoches Regional Airport to Taylor Townsend and Van Eversull. Although sale of the hangar is between private parties, the lot the hangar is built on is property of the city.

•Resolutions

Resolution 103 authorized the mayor to certify that work on Natchitoches Regional Airport Runway 7-25 and Taxiway B-1 performed by Regional Construction, Inc. is substantially complete.

Resolution 104 was removed from the agenda. It would have executed a consulting agreement between the city and EJES, Inc.

Resolution 105 authorized a change order to the renovation of the Texas and Pacific Railroad Depot that will house the National Park Service’s headquarters. The change order brings the cost of the project from $930,483 to $1,073,787 to remediate fire safety, roof design and structural deterioration issues discovered during renovation and install an historically appropriate canopy along the outside of the depot facing the railroad tracks. The Park Service will reimburse the city for $100,000 of the project cost. The original budgeted amount for the project was $868,893.

•Reports

Brown-Smith provided the city’s financial report. She stated that the city saw a recent decline in sales tax collections and noted a sharp decline of nearly 5% or $48,762 for the month of September compared to the previous year and down by 7,786 for the month of October . She contrasted the recent decline with an overall increase in sales tax collections of more than 16% for the year thus far, and a one percent increase for the fiscal year. She then stated that the Law Enforcement Tax is up approximately 13% for the year and the hotel occupancy tax is $54,000 for the year compared to around $40,000 at this time during the previous year.

• Guest speakers and presentations

Guest speakers and presentations State Representative Gabe Firment introduced himself at the City Council Meeting. As representative of District 22, he stated that he looks forward to assisting all residents of Natchitoches regardless of voting boundaries. Bruce Johanson, a consultant for the City of Natchitoches, introduced himself by video chat to explain his work determining the need for pay raises for municipal emergency services employees. He revealed that police officers and firefighters in Natchitoches earn roughly 24-25% less than their peers in comparable Louisiana cities.

The city council also introduced the winners of the Christmas Angels, Miss Merry Christmas and Christmas Belles pageants. The next city council meeting will be Monday, Nov. 28.

City of Natchitoches offices will be closed Nov. 24-25 in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday.