WALKER – After more than 1½ hours of discussions and questions, silence decided the fate of six rezoning proposals before the Walker City Council on Monday, July 10.
As City Clerk Myra Streeter read each of the proposed ordinances, no council member made a motion to accept the rezoning or to second it.
With each round of silence, Streeter declared that proposal had failed, followed by applause from the audience.
The six ordinances would have rezoned properties on Travis Street, Lockhart Street and Johnson Lane from R-50 (residential) to RC (residential commercial), “for the purpose of selling the property for residential commercial purposes,” according to the ordinances.
This would allow their sale to become part of a 120-unit expansion of Creekside Crossing Apartments on Walker North Road.
The six requests for rezoning are from: Joel Butler, property on Travis Street and Lockhart Street; Dewey Glenn/Margaret Johnson Glenn, property on Lockhart Street; Richard Harbor III, property on Travis Street; Donald Butler, property on Travis Street; Ethel G. Ducre, property on Travis Street; and Joyce Maye Washington, property on the corner of Lockhart Street and Johnson Lane and the corner of Travis Street and Johnson Lane.
John Ross Buzzell, managing partner of Bearing Point Properties, which owns Creekside Crossing Apartments, declined comment after the meeting.
After the public hearings on the rezoning proposals were closed, Councilman Eric Cook offered a motion to deny all six proposals.
“They don’t want these apartments to be built and property rezoned,” Cook said, referring to homeowners near the apartment complex.
“I am sticking with the community and the residents. That’s who we represent,” he said.
Streeter explained separate votes were needed since the six rezoning proposals were separate ordinances.
She added that Cook did not need to make a motion to deny the rezoning if no one made a motion to accept it or second it.
“If it fails, they have to wait a year to bring it back, even if there is no vote,” she said.
Cook then withdrew his motion and Streeter went down the list, without any of the other councilmen offering motions to accept them.
During the public hearings, it appeared a compromise was possible when council member Scarlett Milton-Major asked Buzzell – if the community was open to the idea – if he would accept rezoning of three of the properties west of Travis Street.
“We are open to talking about anything,” Buzzell said.
The plan to relocate Travis Street, at his company’s expense, would still be needed and he would still ask DOTD for direct access to Walker South Road.
“If the Travis relocation is amendable to everybody, we are open to that,” he said.
Cook also was agreeable to the idea.
“If they want to come back later and get with community and the people, that would be fine,” he said.
But no council member offered motions to accept rezoning for those three.
The City Council tabled the six zoning requests June 12 after councilmen said they were concerned about whether the public was adequately informed of the public hearings or understood the impact of the rezoning.
An informational meeting was held at City Hall on June 29, where Buzzell outlined Creekside Crossing’s phase 2 and homeowners voiced their concerns.
Buzzell was given the first chance to address the council during the public hearings. He went over the plans for phase 2 at the apartment complex as he did at the June 29 meeting.
Creekside Crossing would add 120 units and access to the apartment complex would change from Travis Street to a common drive directly from Walker North Road.
Two roads would have been affected by phase 2: Travis Street and Johnson Lane.
Part of Travis Street would be moved north and connect to an existing part of the street. A new portion of Johnson Lane would connect to Lockhart Street and Travis.
Buzzell said his company would pay for the relocation and road work.
Buzzell also said he was seeking DOTD approval to put a deceleration lane going north on Walker North Road for traffic to turn into the complex.
“This is an early step in the process,” Buzzell told the council. “A lot has got to happen before we put shovel in the ground.”
Buzzell also went over how Creekside Crossing dropped its ban on month-to-month leasing after the Great Flood of 2016.
Seventy flood victims got apartments, but now only five are still living there and the others have returned to their homes, he said.
The complex has a 96 percent occupancy rate, he added.
There is a demand for rental housing, but not related to the flood, Buzzell said.
“The flood is not generating the demand,” Buzzell said. “Your market and this community growth is from Walker to Livingston and Denham Springs and Central.”
Since the last census, 10,500 people have moved into the Walker market, he said.
The annual income five years ago was $65,000; that has risen to $70,000, Buzzell said.
“These are the kind of people you want to maintain,” residence in Walker, he said.
“You need to keep a Class A facility to keep them here. They are spending their money here. If they go to Denham Springs, they will spend their money there,” he said.
Among the residents near the apartment complex who spoke was Debra Keller, who repeated her concerns about the traffic situation as she did at the June 29 meeting.
“You can make numbers do and say anything you want, to tell a story anyway you want,” she said.
“More people coming out going to work will be putting pressure on (La.) 447,” Keller said.
“The shopping center has traffic in and out, traffic from north and south, east and west and the train two to three ties day … backing up traffic east and west.
Schools will attract more traffic and Ballpark Road in the summertime is dangerous, she added.
“More density gives you less flexibility every day,” Keller said.
“We’re not interested in 90 units more, we’re not interested in 120 units more, not one unit more to add more congestion and inconvenience,” Keller said.
“I live in the area. I’m affected by the area. This is not good for the area.”
Truck driver Carl Singleton said the traffic situation causes him to leave his home 1½ hours early to then wait at home.
“If I don’t leave then, I will be late for work,” he said.
Mayor Jimmy Watson said the city has applied to the state Department of Transportation & Development for red lights at Creekside Crossing, Brian Park, Stine’s and at Walker South Road and Aydell Lane.
“We were denied each time,” he said.
Walker South Road’s traffic situation comes from cars from subdivisions being built both north of the apartment complex and south of the interstate, Watson said.
Kevin Fambrough is a reporter at the Livingston Parish News. He can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @fambroughkevin.