After months of waiting, a group seeking to incorporate the Livingston Parish community of Satsuma will finally get a chance to put its petition to a vote this spring.
H.L. “Lyndon” Arledge, co-chairman of the Save Satsuma petition drive, said the group has been waiting for months for Gov. Bobby Jindal to call a special election on the petition — which the governor finally did late Wednesday afternoon.
The election will be held March 28.
Arledge said Wednesday it had been a long and frustrating wait for an election date. The parish registrar of voters verified that the petition had received more than the 255 required signatures and forwarded the certified paperwork to the Governor’s Office in early August.
Arledge said the paperwork apparently sat on the governor’s desk until mid-November, when it was sent to the attorney general for an opinion on the petition’s compliance with the Lawrason Act, the state law that governs certain municipalities. That opinion was released Monday.
The Governor’s Office did not initially respond to The Advocate’s questions Wednesday afternoon about the delay or what may have caused it. Three hours later, at 5:03 p.m., the Governor’s Office emailed the proclamation calling for the special election.
After that, the office sent an email attributed to Thomas Enright, Jindal’s executive counsel, in response to questions from The Advocate. He confirmed the office received a faxed copy of the petition, excluding signatures, from the registrar of voters on Aug. 6, and the entire petition, including the signatures, on Aug. 7, and that officials did not request an attorney general’s opinion until Nov. 17.
The petition seeks to incorporate most of the rural area above Interstate 12 between the municipalities of Walker and Livingston and a large amount of uninhabited land below I-12, Enright said in the email. “Owners of land within the proposed incorporation limits of Satsuma voiced concerns that their large tracts of vacant, uninhabited land was being improperly incorporated and that Satsuma would be unable to provide municipal services to such a large area of land.”
Residents in the rural community began discussing incorporation in 2013, after the Parish Council adopted a master plan for the parish but rejected an option for each ward to create its own zoning regulations, Arledge said.
“There was a lot of talk about putting a highway through Satsuma,” Arledge said. “That went away, but then there’s the airport.”
Parish officials have been studying the possibility of locating a general aviation airport south of I-12 within the boundaries of the area Satsuma residents want to incorporate.
Arledge said the goal of incorporation is to ensure residents have a say in commercial and industrial developments.
“After that council vote, it was clear that the only way we would ever have a say was for us to become a village or town,” he said.
At least one commercial developer in the area has expressed some concerns about the incorporation effort.
Garry Lewis, who developed property along I-12 at Satsuma, told Parish Council members in June that the Save Satsuma petition was little more than a power grab by Arledge and his family.
“I believe they are really wanting to be a mayor of their own village,” Lewis said in a statement emailed June 20 to the council members on his behalf by Helene Brown.
Lewis could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
In the emailed statement, Lewis said the parish’s master plan would create a protective line between any commercial development along I-12 and the area where Arledge lives. Any businesses already in place would remain commercial, but everything else would be residential.
Parish Councilman Chance Parent, who represents the Satsuma area, confirmed Wednesday that the parish has no intention of zoning the Satsuma area as all commercial or industrial.
“The plans would leave whatever is residential alone,” Parent said. “We may zone a little around the interstate, but commercial or industrial is all that would ever be there anyway.”
Parent said the purpose of the parish’s master plan is to “try to keep businesses from building on top of residences,” not to enact zoning regulations that would do the opposite.
Parent said he believes the ultimate goal of the incorporation effort is to prevent the parish from locating an airport there, “but that’s 10 to 20 years from now, not something to be immediately built.”
Arledge said he has no plans to be mayor or alderman if Satsuma is incorporated. “At least, I hope I’m not,” he said. It would be up to those elected officials to determine what the town’s land uses would be, he said.
Arledge also stressed that organizers have no intention of imposing any property taxes to pay for town government operations.
“We know they’re projecting who’s going to pay for this, and they think it will be a commercial tax,” Arledge said of the effort’s detractors. “Other small municipalities collect franchise fees. But that’s not something to decide now.”
The petition indicates the town’s operations would be funded through grants and fees on licenses and permits.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen. Contact her by phone at (225) 336-6981.