Well, it happened.
At last week’s Livingston Parish Council meeting, the group of nine parish representatives voted, very controversially, to not approve a preliminary plat for a multi-family development on Buddy Ellis Road.
The final? A vote of 5-4, the beauty of having an odd number of Parish Council members, considering they are all present for a particular vote.
And they were definitely all there, as well as a packed room full of Livingston Parish residents who were – for the most part – decidedly opposed to the multi-family development.
The developer, Garry Lewis, who owns much of the land in and around the Satsuma exit, and this project, would be putting yet another multi-family residence on Buddy Ellis, which already faces substandard road conditions and overcrowding.
Those were the two main cries of battle from the crowd, with the third being a claim that many of the multi-family developments on Buddy Ellis aren’t even full. The followup question from the crowd was, “Why do we need another?”
To which the parish councilman from Watson, Garry “Frog” Talbert, answered that the market determines how many will come, and how many will skip out, but it’s the council’s job to provide infrastructure and maintain drainage studies to make sure that other residents aren’t “negatively impacted.”
That’s an extremely open-ended task.
It’s also problematic, as the council’s attorney, Chris Moody, mentioned after the meeting. While Lewis and his partners have agreed to have another infrastructure and drainage study done, the fact of the matter is – per parish ordinances – they’ve already done their due diligence. By declining Lewis’ development, both the council and its individual members can open themselves to legal action.
Now, Lewis has been a staunch member of the community interested in growth, so if the council asks him to come back with another study, he’ll play ball once, probably. But after that, who’s to say?
Logically, however, disagreeing with the residents of Buddy Ellis means you’ve probably never actually driven down Buddy Ellis – which is but one of many substandard roads in Livingston Parish.
That’s substandard with regard to the population it serves, as well as the state of the road itself when compared to current road construction requirements.
Now, the parish appears to have some good plans in the works with higher sales tax and grant funds coming through to help. The new $66 million budget reflects plans for more road work.
And, yet, the council is still open to scrutiny and legal action because it followed the whims of the mob which showed up last Thursday night. And, who’s to blame them? An audience of 300-plus in that chamber will put a fire under anyone, literally and figuratively.
Following the whims of the crowd, and its desire to stop this with a determined effort, would show that the comments made by Talbert about “free market” is, indeed, not what they want … at least, not when it affects them. When the time comes to stop something, show up in force and get your representatives to buckle to your passion, not follow their own ordinances – which, in this case, were followed.
What’s the bail out here? Parishwide zoning. It’s time … actually, it’s past time, but sometimes in life a certain threshold must be struck before the will for such things will attract the necessary will and effort to be brought to fruition.
No, it will not be easy. No, in certain places it will not be popular. However, in this circumstance the council stands on a precipice, caught between the will of the people and potential developers who are interested in coming to Livingston Parish.
The laissez-faire approach to development worked before growth hit a point when 100 homes, on average, were sold per month. Now, zoning is just part of the overall planning that must be implemented if the council is to have even a modicum of control over the rampant growth in Livingston Parish, combined with the ability to provide, as the councilman above mentioned, appropriate infrastructure.
And developers, businesses, and industry will appreciate it just as much as anyone else. Parting with money on plans, developments, permits, and construction is a lot easier when they know that their project fits within the mold of the parish around them – which, in most cases, includes proper roads, utilities, and overall infrastructure.
Sure, the free market works for everyone – right up until it doesn’t, and they get mad. In this case, when doesn’t it work? When Buddy Ellis crumbles apart? Or, worse, a fatal crash proves that the road was never designed to hold the traffic it currently ferries?
This isn’t the Free State of Livingston anymore; there’s too many people with too many needs – and this multi-family development fiasco shows they have a voice.
The schools and law enforcement upgraded, Bass Pro brought retail opportunities, Juban Crossing expanded those opportunities, and affordable real estate put the cherry on top.
It’s time to upgrade the thought process before the growth becomes such that infrastructure falls woefully behind, most roads can’t handle the congestion – and it becomes too expensive to fix.