DENHAM SPRINGS — For three hours Thursday night, Denham Springs leaders and residents heaped scorn on a rezoning request that would allow construction of a 272-unit apartment complex, but a divided City Council passed the ordinance with a 3-2 vote and with conditions.
“We are definitely, violently against it,” Fire District 5 Chairman Jim Gilbert said.
“There are a lot more questions than there are answers,” Councilman-elect Jeff Wesley remarked.
School Board member Karen Wax Schmitt said the city was “biting the hand that feeds you.”
The property in question is a 17-acre tract to the west of the intersection of Pete’s Highway and Cook Road. The property owners, through an attorney and real estate agent, appealed to the council Thursday to rezone the land from commercial to multifamily residential so they could sell the land to Team Development to build an upscale gated apartment complex.
Residents complained of traffic the development will bring. They pointed to local schools that already are relegating children to temporary buildings. The fire district worried about being stretched too thin.
Other residents were upset at losing the opportunity to sell the land to a commercial developer.
There also was considerable discussion of a road — a road that does not yet exist and that residents fear may not be completed.
The property developers have agreed to fund and build a three-lane road intersecting Pete’s Highway and extending about 1,200 feet to the west, their attorney, Shelby Easterly, said.
Mayor Jimmy Durbin shared a letter from state Sen. Dale Erdey, giving his support to a capital outlay request connecting Pete’s Highway to Range Avenue via Demco Drive in the area of the partial road.
The letter also expresses an interest in expanding the same route all the way to Juban Road.
Ultimately, John Wascom, Arthur Perkins and Lori Lamm-Williams voted in favor of the rezoning. Christopher Davis and Annie Fugler voted against.
Wascom said businesses need traffic to attract customers and look to locate where there are already passers-by. At the same time, a few hundred extra drivers on Range is insignificant compared with the 100,000 he estimates drive the road daily.
“The benefits will outweigh the burden,” he said.
Realtor Brent Dugas said he represented the property owners since 2010 and he hadn’t gotten any bids from commercial buyers interested in the land.
Lamm-Williams said it did not appear to be commercially viable in the present or the near future, in explaining her vote.
Businesses would bring traffic, too, she added.
Lamm-Williams said she believes the partial road eventually will be connected to Range Avenue and expressed excitement in the possible new economic corridor.
She called the measure to vote with contingencies, though.
The rezoning is dependent upon the sale of the land and its development as an upscale apartment complex as indicated on plans submitted to the city including the partial road.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.