SATSUMA — An effort to incorporate the Livingston Parish community of Satsuma is getting pushback from some landowners who say the move is nothing more than a land grab.
Landowners and local businessmen are questioning why roughly 4,500 acres of vacant land were included in the proposed 6,500-acre town.
The incorporation issue will go to voters March 28.
Developer Garry Lewis said Wednesday that he owns about 2,000 acres in the proposed town limits. About 1,800 of those acres lie south of Interstate 12 in an area Lewis describes as having “not one human inhabitant.”
What the acreage does include, however, is the site for the parish’s proposed general aviation airport — one of a handful of projects that prompted a residents’ group called Save Satsuma to begin the incorporation effort.
Lewis said incorporation supporters have included his and others’ vacant land in the proposed town to “extort land and money” through taxes, development fees or regulations that would halt development altogether.
Lyndon Arledge, co-chairman of the incorporation effort, denies those accusations. He said Wednesday that becoming a town is the best way for residents to have a say in commercial developments that may affect their community, especially the proposed airport.
“If we incorporated, we wanted to be able to regulate noise and safety factors related to that,” Arledge said. “We just really want a seat at the table.”
The dispute over the town’s proposed boundaries held up the balloting process after former East Baton Rouge city-parish planner Douglas Villien sent an report to the Governor’s Office in August, highlighting the landowners’ concerns and suggesting that petition organizers had “unlawful motives” in seeking incorporation.
Villien, who also planned Lewis’ Suma Crossing development at the I-12 interchange, said Satsuma’s 2,052 residents occupy only 1,944 acres. Incorporating such a sparsely populated area would be difficult enough without also drawing in all the uninhabited land, he said.
“There is no way that incorporation here could provide services to these vacant areas in a reasonable time as contemplated,” Villien wrote in his Aug. 14 report. “Nor will the tax base provide for expansion or extending services and infrastructure to the outlying fringe of the proposed incorporation.”
Villien described the inclusion of the vacant land as “probably an unlawful taking.”
Lewis said Villien’s report was sent to the Governor’s Office in the hopes of keeping the incorporation issue from making it to the ballot, but the state Attorney General’s Office determined that the petition met all legal requirements.
Marvin Henderson, owner of Henderson Auctions near Livingston, said he “adamantly opposed” the incorporation effort. Henderson’s business and others along U.S. 190, including Valery Watts’ furniture store and auction site, lie within the proposed Satsuma town limits.
“I like the country. I’m a country boy,” Henderson said. “But the days when we saddled up our horse to go to the store for flour is over with.”
Henderson said it should be up to property owners to decide what they do with their land. None in the Livingston-Satsuma area would do anything detrimental to their community, he said.
Buck Grantham, who owns 52 acres on a dead-end road just outside the town of Livingston, said he was puzzled to find his property lay within the proposed Satsuma town limits.
“I’m less than 5,000 feet from Livingston city limits, but it’s over 5 miles from the Satsuma interchange to Livingston,” Grantham said.
Grantham said he did not want to be incorporated into any town.
“I’ll soon be 80 years old, and if they’ll just leave me alone, I won’t bother anybody else,” Grantham said.
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