The Lakes of Magnolia Trace was once on its way to becoming a perfectly lovely subdivision, recalls Dolores Daigle, whose home in Oak Meadow subdivision abuts the O’Neal Lane property.
Construction of the 81-lot development began in 2008. In the months that followed, roads and sidewalks were paved, electrical and sewage utilities were put into place, and street lights were installed.
Neighbors expected that construction of new homes would follow.
But it never did.
More than three years later, 4-foot-tall grass and weeds hide the unused sidewalks. The cul-de-sacs have become dumping grounds, littered with broken glass, damaged furniture, crumbled slabs of concrete and dirty mattresses.
Durwood Templet, who also lives in Oak Meadow adjacent to the never-developed subdivision, said he likes to take walks in the abandoned neighborhood for exercise.
But lately he’s grown more cautious of activity he suspects could be happening deeper into the development.
“If what’s going on in here is what we think is going on, then it’s not a safe place to be,” he said.
Daigle and her husband Melvin say the weeds have become so out of control that they grow into her yard, and attract rodents and other wildlife.
Templet points to an empty broken cage and hypothesizes that people are cruelly leaving animals at the site.
Melvin Daigle said he’s had to call Animal Control several times to collect stray dogs wandering the lots, some of which have dug holes under his fence.
The Lakes of Magnolia Trace has had only one known resident, Templet said, referring to a homeless man who camps in a wooded area of the development.
Neighbors have complained since at least January to the Department of Public Works to clean up the property.
Because it is private property, however, the city-parish isn’t obligated to fix the problem.
Nonetheless, David Guillory, assistant DPW director of maintenance, said his crew has already started cleaning up the neighborhood out of concern for public safety.
“When you get a blighted property like this, it attracts mischief, rodents, dumping and other things like that,” Guillory said.
He said in cases of individual properties, if there are complaints, DPW can clean up a property and assess the owner fees on property tax rolls, via the city-parish’s Litter Court system.
He called this situation unique because the size of the property is much larger in scope, more than 60 acres, and the developer has not stepped forward to take responsibility for the project.
“We usually deal with lots with owners, and then we fine them,” he said. “When you deal with something like this and there’s no local owner that can be held accountable for it, we have to step up.”
He estimated the cost of the cleanup could exceed $10,000, which would have to be eaten by DPW’s budget, short of an owner being identified to send the bill.
After it’s cleaned up, Guillory said, he hopes to block off the neighborhood entrance to prevent people from dumping and using the area for other potentially illegal activity.
The grass will be sprayed with a growth retardant, Guillory said, adding that DPW can not afford to indefinitely maintain the property.
Jeffrey Scott Thompson, listed as the developer and owner of the property, could not be reached for comment.
Glenn Capdepon, another officer for the project, did not return two phone calls.
Kenneth Tackett, who was a Realtor for the project but is no longer associated, said the development is “no longer viable” and has “fizzled out.”
He said he couldn’t comment on the financial status of the project, beyond saying that the development still belongs to Thompson and is not in foreclosure or bankruptcy.
Tackett said when the project started, he had eight interested buyers ready to purchase lots, but they all ended up backing out “for some reason or another.”
He cited the down economy, and the developers’ unwillingness to enhance the development’s entrance way with a gate and signage as reasons for buyers pulling out.
The lots were expected to be sold for between $120,000 and $180,0000, Tackett said.
Tackett often passes by the development, and said he’s disappointed by its overgrown appearance.
“Originally, they had the wherewithal to keep it mowed,” he said, adding that the owners no longer have the resources to pay a grass-cutting service.
Tackett said he separated from the project about a year ago. “I spent three years working on it, and I didn’t get a dime for all that time and effort.”