A lengthy battle between residents of Live Oak Trace subdivision and Wal-Mart came to an end Oct. 13 after the City Council voted unanimously to uphold the recommendation by its Planning and Zoning commission and deny a rezoning request by Wal-Mart to build a Neighborhood Market on Church Street.
In a standing-room-only meeting, residents launched complaints against the rezone that would have changed the tract of land from a residential estates designation to commercial general zoning.
Residents’ concerns have been that the rezone would have a negative impact on their quality of life.
Since before a March Planning and Zoning meeting, residents have fought the retailer’s plans to build near the entrance to Live Oak Trace by launching a “Save Church Street” campaign, including signs, a website and petition with 80 typed names.
Traffic safety, noise and the impact the Wal-Mart store would have on locally owned LeBlanc’s Food Stores have been reasons cited by those opposed to the project.
The March meeting, which lasted five hours, ended in attorneys pulling their request for a rezone request. Since then, a resubdivision of the tract into four lots was approved, but requests to rezone the property were yanked in May and June.
Though the land is shown on future land use maps and the city’s Unified Development Code as supporting a commercial suburban zoning, the retailer had hoped to win residents over, and ultimately the City Council, by hosting a town hall meeting and making changes to the original site plan, including altering the hours of operation from 24 to a 6 a.m. to midnight schedule, adding a berm to help reduce noise from traffic and implementing more trees and landscaping throughout the parking lot, attorney Jim Percy said.
Live Oak Trace resident Lauren Cimino said she and her husband and children moved from Baton Rouge to Zachary to get away from the crime of a larger city. She suggested Wal-Mart improve on the Supercenter it already has in Zachary.
Beverly Cerise said the issue is not about who but about what is allowed at the location.
“Any and all commercial general developments will adversely affect residents. We oppose large retailers, especially when the future land use is commercial suburban. It was designated that way for a reason,” Cerise said. “If this (store) is allowed, it will put an end to smart growth.”
Prior to the vote, Councilman Francis Nezianya recused himself from voting, following the advice of an ethics board.
Nezianya owns several Subway franchises located inside Wal-Mart stores in Baker and Zachary.
“To dispel any rumors, the city is not broke, but I have a vested interest in this community, and it’s my job as mayor is to continue to let Zachary grow in a positive manner,” Mayor David Amrhein said. “I can tell you this, I’ve seen what no growth does to a city. It kills it. There are two types of cities, growing and dying.”
Before voting, councilmen Brandon Noel and Ben Cavin gave reasons as to how and why they vote the way they do.
“We look at use of land and site plan and see what fits and how it relates to the UDC. I’ve heard your comments and have to say that the market decides the types of businesses that come here. That’s called free enterprise, folks,” Noel said. “It’s not a perfect system, but free enterprise and capitalism are the best we have.”
Noel said the council does not put quotas on the types or quantities of businesses that wish to come to Zachary, personal feelings are checked, and decisions are based on what’s allowed and what the maps and codes indicate.
“This locale is probably not the best for a 40,000-square-foot store. I think commercial suburban is a better fit for the front of a subdivision,” Noel said.
Cavin said his decisions are based on not who but what is allowed on a site.
“I personally loved your plans and what you were going to do. I hope you consider building elsewhere in Zachary because I think people would flock to your store,” Councilwoman Laura O’Brien said.
The 4-0 vote denied Wal-Mart’s request to rezone, negating approval of its site plan, which also was on the agenda.