Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors backs barge cleaning site ahead of rezoning vote _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Area of levee across from the approximate mid-point of BREC's Farr Park Equestrian Center and RV Campground. Tubal-Cain Marine Services has a permit application under review by the state Department of Environmental Quality to operate a barge cleaning facility on the river side of the Mississippi River levee just opposite the park.

The Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors has come out in support of the controversial barge cleaning site that wants to operate within a mile of a residential neighborhood and down the road from LSU.

It’s the first public ally that Tubal-Cain and the Port of Greater Baton Rouge have gotten, as a long line of influential opponents including Mayor-President Kip Holden, Congressman Garrett Graves and LSU President King Alexander have expressed their opposition to the project for its proximity to a residential neighborhood, LSU and a BREC park.

Tonight at 4 p.m. the Metro Council will meet and vote on whether to rezone the property Tubal-Cain has been developing for two years. The company says they’ve spent about $4 million in preparation for the operations. But rezoning it from heavy industrial to commercial would prevent them from doing business.

“The Greater Baton Rouge Association of REALTORS is writing you to express our concerns about your attempt to rezone the property cited above without the express request or even the consent of the private property owner,” wrote Herb Gomez, vice president of the realtor association, to the Metro Council. The owner of the land is the Port of Greater Baton Rouge who is leasing it to Tubal-Cain.

Rezoning land use can be initiated by the owner or by the Metro Council.

Gomez said many members of their group oppose the barge cleaning facility, but are more concerned about the precedent of “trampling on property rights.”

“Our primary interest in this matter is one of private property rights and preserving these rights. Every day the government chips away at the rights of private property owners,” he said in the email. . “Today you might use the might of government to change the zoning of this property to the perceived benefit of those citizens near this property, but who is to say some day this power might be used to the detriment of those same citizens.”

Holden responded to the email to Gomez, saying that the case has “nothing to do with private property rights,” because the land belongs to a governmental entity.

“I would suggest to you that by NOT passing the proposed zoning change you are in fact violating the property rights of the citizens surrounding the proposed project, and the thousands of citizens who utilize the BREC Park paid for by the property taxes of the citizens of this Parish,” Holden wrote. “As a realtor, I am sure you understand the detrimental effect an industrial facility will have on the property values of the homes located in the vicinity of the facility. It is the obligation of the Metro Council to protect the property rights of our citizens.”

The Metro Council meets today at 4 p.m. at City Hall.