After much discussion and debate between the Zachary City Council and property owners of Zachary Parkside Apartments, a planning and zoning matter prompted a revote and was ultimately tabled at the March 24 meeting.
The Otey M. Hughes property on La. 964 — a vacant parcel of land adjacent to Zachary Parkside Apartments — appeared first on the agenda as a resubdivision of three lots into one and later as a site plan review item under planning and zoning that required a public hearing.
At an earlier March meeting, the site plan review was given a favorable recommendation by the Planning and Zoning Commission, and representatives from Maestri-Murrell Property Management in Baton Rouge, which owns the land, attended the City Council meeting to answer questions and to see the outcome of the site plan review.
After a brief discussion, Councilman Tommy Womack made a motion to accept the site plan review, but the motion was denied in a 3-2 vote with council members Ben Cavin, Brandon Noel and Laura O’Brien voting against the measure.
“You refused to accept the site plan review, refused the recommendation of planning and zoning, but will you give us a reason as to why you voted no?” Lawrence Maestri asked.
“For me, it comes down to the future intended use of the property, and in this case, I think the city’s Master Plan is correct, commercial suburban is a better fit than the current zoning of urban center,” Noel said.
An urban center zoning allows for commercial property on the first floor and residential units above.
Maestri wants the lot to be rezoned residential urban so he can add 40 more units in the same design as the current apartments. He then offered a history of the property saying his company bought the 73 acres 10 years ago and created its own Master Plan.
“We added retail with the CVS, donated land to BREC, discounted about $100,000 of property to get a hotel there and to help Zachary Youth Park ... we’ve spent about $50 million. We also pay $250,000 a year in taxes to Zachary,” said Maestri. “We’re trying to better the apartments for the people that live there, and by allowing commercial with a CS zoning, you’re creating a not safe environment for the people that live there.”
Mayor David Amrhein said that with the current urban center zoning, the property owners could, if they wanted to, build a shell of a commercial space on the bottom and add as many as 60, 70, 80 or more residential units on top in order to get a favorable vote from the council.
“But we don’t want to do that,” said Maestri. “I’m not trying to squeeze every drop of blood out of a turnip. I’m trying to do what is best for the community as well as protect our investment. It’s a lot better than what you’re trying to force me to do.”
“Families would have to contend with bars, restaurants and traffic in and out at all hours of the night, horns blowing. We’re trying to create a quiet community,” Maestri said.
Cavin said he looked at the city’s Unified Development Code, Master Plan and future intended use maps and voted accordingly. A rezone to residential urban goes against two of those three guidelines, Cavin said.
“I look at the impact of those most directly affected, and think a rezone would be a negative impact. I appreciate what you’ve done for the city, but if you’re asking me to vote quid pro quo, I’m not doing that,” said Cavin.
O’Brien said the added apartments would be detrimental to the school system since apartment dwellers don’t pay property taxes that fuel the school system.
Amrhein said though he couldn’t vote, he’d much rather approve a property owner who was local and he could “put his hands on” to fix a problem as opposed to a developer from out of state.
After further discussion on the matter and more comments from all parties, the council then revoted, recalling their initial vote, so they could table the matters to discuss the issue further with Maestri-Murrell.
The vote passed 4-1 with Cavin voting no a second time.
“I feel differently about it now and understand they need a return on their investment and need to protect their other investment, the apartments, but I think I’d rather the zoning be what they initially proposed, residential urban, than commercial suburban. We don’t, and they don’t, want it to become commercial because ultimately something undesirable could go there,” Noel said March 30. “At least with residential urban, once those apartments are there, they’re there.”
In hindsight, the zoning matter should have come before the resubdividing of the lot in order to avoid hashing out an item that caused most of the council members to reconsider their initial vote, Noel added.
The Zachary City Council’s next meeting is at 6:30 p.m. April 14.