The developers of Ambassador Town Center in Lafayette are returning claims of deception and bad faith back at the family who owned the land on which the $100 million retail complex was built and who still own nearby land they plan to turn into a mixed-use development.
Developers Sterling Properties and CBL & Associates claim in court documents that members of the Boustany family are trying to get out of making agreed-upon payments of almost $83,000 a year. The developers said the full yearly payment is needed to repay money that was borrowed to build the roads and drainage at the retail center at Ambassador Caffery Parkway and Kaliste Saloom Road. That money — about $15.4 million — also was paying for ongoing infrastructure construction on the adjacent 65 acres the family plans to develop.
The claims by Sterling and CBL, made last week, are part of the lawsuit the Boustanys filed against the developers in early May. The filing is basically a lawsuit within a lawsuit. In the original petition, filed by the Boustanys through family-owned companies GBB Properties Two and DBR Properties, the family claimed the developers were not living up to an agreement to build roads and drainage on the acreage the family still owns.
Sterling and CBL have countered that it’s the Boustanys who are not holding up their end of the bargain.
Sterling and CBL said the Boustanys tried to get around paying the full amount by classifying the land they still own as farmland instead of commercial land. It’s an important distinction that would lower the annual payment made by the Boustanys from almost $83,000 for the commercial designation to just under $5,000.
In an effort a few years ago to entice developers to build in Lafayette, parish officials granted PILOT tax breaks — payment in lieu of taxes. A tool used in economic development, PILOT proceeds take property tax revenue that normally would go to public schools and public protection and allow developers to use the money to build infrastructure.
Sterling and CBL, through a third entity, borrowed the millions needed to build the roads, drainage and other infrastructure at the center and on the Boustanys’ land.
The agreement was that the developers and the Boustanys would make annual PILOT payments to repay the loan.
But late last year, the Boustanys had the land reclassified as farmland, and then tried to get by with paying only $4,928 instead of the much higher amount. Sterling and CBL balked at the low figure, according to last week’s filing, and the Boustanys paid the full amount of $82,748 under protest.
Contacted Wednesday, Lafayette Parish Tax Assessor Conrad Comeaux said his office is still working on the correct classification of the Boustanys’ land.
Messages left with attorneys for the Boustanys and the developers were not returned.
Sterling and CBL are asking 15th District Judge Ed Rubin to rule on whether the land should be assessed as commercial or farmland. They also are asking Rubin for attorney fees and damages.
There are no hearings or other court dates scheduled yet in the case.