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Land use issues cause tension at Metro Council meeting

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Louisiana Politics

POSTED: Thursday, April 24, 2014 - 10:25am

UPDATED: Thursday, April 24, 2014 - 2:10pm

Land use caused a lot of emotional debate at Wednesday's Metro Council meeting.

Much of it stemmed from the rezoning of the controversial Rouzan development.

The property, which sits south of Perkins Road and east of Glasgow Avenue, was started in 2007 with designs to include homes, a commercial district, and a public library. But neighbors took the developer to court in 2008, and a judge last month invalidated its zoning designation as a Traditional Neighborhood Development.

Tommy Spinosa, the developer, returned to the council chambers to advocate for a new zoning application. He argued that it was needed because 40 people already own homes in Rouzan, but can't move in or do anything with them.

"They can't close their loan because they can't get title insurance," he claimed. "We even have people who are trying to sell their homes and they can't sell them, so it's really created a financial nightmare."

Three of the neighbors involved in the lawsuit urged the council not to rezone the property, putting an end to their fight.

"We have continued, as a community, to lose faith in your leadership and fumblings as a Metro Council," Janet Hoover told the members. "It makes me question your motives."

Her comments changed the tone in the council chambers, earning a public rebuke from Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards. It was followed by a testy exchange between Alex St. Amant, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the Rouzan lawsuit, and Mayor-President Pro Tem Chandler Loupe, in which Loupe accused St. Amant of wanting nothing more than to keep the lawsuit in court.

"I'm trying to find a solution," Loupe told him forcefully, "and I'm asking you what your solution is and you can't tell me one!"

At the end of the debate, the council unanimously approved the new zoning request. (Councilwoman Tara Wicker did not attend the meeting, due to the recent birth of her child.)

The council later took the first step toward a lawsuit of its own, passing a resolution calling for the city-parish to sue the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. DEQ recently approved a permit for a new industrial waste landfill west of Highway 61 near Alsen, even though the Metro Council, as well as the councils of Baker and Zachary and other local politicians and residents, asked them not to.

"The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality still issued a permit, when over a century of capacity is in and around this parish," Councilman Trae Welch said. "We don't need any more trash in this parish at all."

The council chambers were much calmer when members voted to expand the city limits of Baton Rouge. They annexed the area along Airline Highway that includes two big businesses, Celtic Media Centre and Costco.

"I moved to Baton Rouge in 1994," stated Patrick Mulhearn, Celtic's Director of Studio Operations, "and it seems like every day, I see some kind of progress or something that makes me appreciate how far we've come since 1994."

There had been some concern that the annexation was a political move against the proposed city of St. George. The proposed city's budget is mainly derived from local sales taxes, but it did not include any revenue generated by the two companies.

"The Celtic Studio/Costco area was not in their maps," Councilman Buddy Amoroso noted, "so this does not affect the new, proposed St. George at all."

A spokesman for the incorporation committee said organizers believed the businesses were already within Baton Rouge city limits, based on their interpretation of the law, so they never considered including them in the boundaries of St. George.

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