OPELOUSAS — Bowing to the pressure of a federal lawsuit, the St. Landry Parish Council agreed Wednesday to have its attorney sign a consent decree allowing an addiction treatment facility to operate in a rural subdivision near Sunset.
Nine of the 13 council members voted to have attorney Chad Pitre sign the agreement, which cancels the lawsuit filed March 10 in U.S. District Court by Acadiana Addiction Center, LLC.
The lawsuit names parish government, parish president Bill Fontenot and the 13 council members as plaintiffs.
Council member Wayne Ardoin cast the lone no vote. Council members Dexter Brown and Gary Courville were absent. Council Chairman Leon Robinson does not vote unless to break a tie.
Ardoin said he has been told by several attorneys that the council had a 65 to 85 percent chance of winning in the lawsuit.
Acadiana Addiction Center filed the lawsuit after the council in August adopted an ordinance creating guidelines and licensing procedures for businesses that include mental health clinics, detoxification centers and halfway houses.
One of the provisions would block any such facility from operating unless 75 percent of nearby residents agreed.
Prior to Wednesday’s vote, the council met briefly in executive session.
Council member Jerry Red Jr. said before the closed session that an attorney hired by the council last week to advise the council on how to proceed with the lawsuit had chosen not to work for the parish.
In a March 26 letter addressed to the council, Pitre wrote that “attorney Jim Gibson has declined to provide his services for defense of the council in the pending lawsuit.”
Choctaw Estates resident Christy Fontenot, who spoke at the meeting, said her residence adjoins the property where Acadiana Addiction Center plans to locate a 52-bed addiction treatment center.
Fontenot said no one representing Acadiana Addiction has spoken to the residents in her subdivision about placing the facility there.
She told the council she’s also concerned that other neighborhoods could be affected by similar facilities.
Fontenot said she thinks the issue is important enough for the council to consider “other avenues” to help parish residents “defend their houses and property values.”
“It’s the right thing to do, even though it’s hard and expensive,” she said.
Ardoin told Fontenot the council is hampered in what it can do because the parish has no zoning laws for rural areas.
Council member Pam Gautreau said the council owes Fontenot and the residents of the subdivision an apology for the way the ordinance was handled.
The lawsuit alleges the parish ordinance violates provisions of the Fair Housing Act and American Disabilities Act.
The ordinance was designed, the lawsuit alleges, to exclude from St. Landry any “residential facilities for persons afflicted with chemical dependency and alcohol addiction.”
Acadiana Addiction Center was also seeking punitive damages through the lawsuit.