LIVINGSTON – Residents spoke out once more against plans for a multifamily development adjacent to a subdivision in Walker, but this time the Livingston Parish Council approved the continued plans for the site.
Council members on an 8-1 vote gave the green light on the preliminary plats for Starwood Knoll, a development by Garry Lewis Properties which is planned for an area near Woodland Crossing subdivision.
The measure passed muster with the council four weeks ago after a 5-4 vote sent the Starwood Knoll development back to the parish planning commission, which granted approval to the plats once more on Feb. 6.
Council members rejected the plan Jan. 10 after residents of Woodland Crossing voiced concerns over drainage, sewer, traffic, and the influx of additional students into the neighborhood schools.
“The developer has worked to make changes on this project to alleviate concerns,” Council Chairman Shane Mack said. “I understand the concerns of the residents after so many people were affected in the flood.”
District 6 Councilman Jeff Averett cast the lone dissenting vote.
“I voted against it for the sake of my constituents, but I knew it was going to pass,” he said. “Garry Lewis left the council no choice because he did everything by the rules – and had it failed, he could have sued each member who opposed it.”
Billy Taylor, a representative from McLin-Taylor Engineering, said Lewis would tie in to the parish sewer system and meet with representatives from Forte & Tablada – the parish engineering firm – to formulate plans to minimize drainage concerns.
Lewis also agreed to move the main entrance to La. 447, as opposed to Bonnie Blue, in hopes it would lessen the neighborhood traffic.
Despite proposed improvements, Woodland Crossing residents fear Starwood Knoll will significantly decrease their property value.
“I’m speaking for the other residents in my neighborhood when I ask you not to approve this,” resident Patricia Darden said. “I’m from New Orleans and I moved to Livingston Parish for the peace and quiet.”
Woodland Crossing resident Dee Dra Sellers, meanwhile, questioned why other changes Taylor proposed at the last meeting did not come to fruition. She referred to a plan for a gated entry from Bonnie Blue Road into Starwood Knoll, as well a park.
Lewis proposed nine acres for recreational space, but plans do not call for playground equipment.
“We were going to have a gate and now we won’t and we were going to have a park and now we won’t,” Sellers said. “There’s a lot of ‘bait-and-switching’ going on.”
Taylor said Lewis has agreed to modifications which included a reduction from 156 units to 144.
“Mr. Garry has acted in good faith with this project, and has spent several hundred thousand dollars to do something he did not have to do, since it passed the planning commission the first time,” Taylor said.
Rent on the units would run between $900 and $1,100 per month, he said.
Sellers asked why the parish has not followed the same path as Ascension Parish, which has issued moratoriums on new developments. She also made a suggestion to the developer.
“If Garry Lewis is such a philanthropist, why doesn’t he buy a section of property in an Opportunity Zone?” she said.
Resident Richard Boudreau suggested the parish put the residents before the developers.
“You have two people (Lewis and Taylor) who want it, and you have over a thousand residents in the subdivision who don’t want it,” he said.
The lack of a zoning law left the parish council no other option, Parish Attorney Chris Moody said after the Jan. 10 meeting. Council members would have put themselves in danger of individual lawsuits if they nixed the proposal once more after the plats gained a second approval from the planning commission.
Muriel Laws, who lives in Woodland Crossing, believes zoning would have made the difference.
“It appears the vote was already considered, already a done deal because of no zoning,” she said. “Zoning is needed for all of Livingston Parish and all the residents.”
She felt Averett under-represented his constituents and should have held a town hall meeting or other outreach to gauge their thoughts.
The legal parameters and the lack of zoning left no other choice for the council, Averett said.
“I was between a rock and hard place here,” he said. “There wasn’t much the council could to do stop this without zoning.
“If people feel unrepresented, they should run for office,” Averett said.