Council faces sea in red protesting construction of apartmentsMar 4th, 2011 | By Michelle Provencher | Category: News
St. Bernard Parish community members are seeing red.
Hoards of residents — and some of the councilmen — attended a council meeting dressed in shades of scarlet in opposition to the four mixed income apartment complexes to be built in the parish, yet the meeting ended with the passage of two ordinances to repeal legislation that bans multifamily housing.
Council chamber was packed at the meeting, held on March 1, and noticeably present were four sheriff deputies at the back of the crowd.
The influx in the council meeting attendance was likely due to the presence of Robert Heffner with the Army Corps of Engineers. Heffner was to explain the recent cease and desist order the Corps placed on construction of one of the apartment complexes after wetlands were discovered on the property. Citizens were ready to protest the apartment project, which is being developed by Dallas-based Provident Realty.
Hefner described the timeline of events relative to the particular parcel of land, located on West Judge Perez Drive, now sprinkled with heavy machinery and work materials.
In 2003, a wetland determination request came in on behalf of the Meraux Foundation, which owned the property at the time. Heffner fast-forwarded to 2008, when a solicitation of use was filed. He described the solicitation of use as having much less detail and a lower level of work required than the wetland determination request.
The map of the building sites that the Corps received was a small black-and-white line map, without any buildings, property lines or landmarks, said Heffner.
The Corps mistakingly thought the property coincided with an area used for FEMA trailers, meaning no wetlands would be affected, continued Heffner.
It was not until two weeks ago that a neighbor discovered the error.
“We saw there would be no wetlands impacted,” said Heffner. “Two weeks ago, we got a call that wetlands were on a piece of the property… The site wasn’t what we identified. The developer was issued a cease and desist order.”
Councilman Wayne Landry, at-large East, said he was offended the Corps allowed Provident Realty to begin construction without a thorough investigation of the land. Wetland intrusion posed a serious roadblock in the permitting process for the public hospital, which is currently being built on the same tract of land as one of the complexes. Landry is the chairman of the Hospital Service District board, and getting the greenlight from the Corps added seven months to the hospital schedule.
“It sounds like it would have been faster if we broke the rules, started building and applied for a permit after the fact,” said Landry. “Now that you know where [Provident Realty is], I think they should be made to go through all of those hoops we had to go through.”
The item to recognize the public was moved up on the agenda, however, Heffner left before hearing any of the community’s comments.
Resident and local realtor, Dana Arcement said her qualm with the project was the detrimental affect the apartments would have on property values in the parish.
“Two of our condominiums [on Jean Lafitte Parkway] just sold for a combined loss of $80,000 to the sellers as a result of Provident Realty building directly next door to our condominium building,” said Arcement.
Arcement, and other commenters, addressed the issue of racism in St. Bernard Parish, a bone of contention U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan cited as the parish’s motive behind opposing the apartment complexes in 2008.
“I don’t like being called a racist,” said Doug Reid, a native to St. Bernard who said he grew up in “the black section” of the parish. “I’m a realist, not a racist.”
Following the public’s comments, the council broke for an Executive Session that lasted nearly an hour and a half.
After their return, the council voted to approve the introduction of two ordinances that would repeal the comprehensive zoning ordinances adopted in Dec. 2009 to prohibit multi-family housing in various areas throughout the parish.
The repeals passed 6-1, with only Landry voting nay.
The next regularly scheduled St. Bernard Parish Council meeting will be Tues., March 15, 1 p.m. at 8201 West Judge Perez Drive.