GONZALES — Two headaches for Gonzales are at an end, with one lawsuit against the city dropped this month and another on the way out, awaiting a judge’s signature.
Both lawsuits, filed over rejected rezoning requests, were the last vestiges of the troubles on the City Council that began in 2013 but grew to a roaring controversy in 2014.
Practically every vote during that time went the way of a three-man majority of Councilman Terance Irvin and two others no longer on the council, Timothy Vessel, recalled in December, and Gary Lacombe, who resigned in November.
“This definitely relieves a burden that was hanging over the city,” City Clerk Clay Stafford said Friday of the dismissal of the suits. “We’re glad to move forward from here.”
The City Council in recent weeks took up the rezoning requests again and granted the requests as originally sought by the plaintiffs in each case.
On March 18, the suit filed by South Park Business Center — which had sought $3 million in damages — was dismissed in U.S. Middle District Court in Baton Rouge.
South Park Business Center, a Baton Rouge company formed by Thomas Keating for various business interests, including storage facilities and real estate, had looked to develop a long-held piece of property in Gonzales.
In November 2013, Keating’s son, Todd Keating, went before the council with a request, already approved by the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, to rezone about 25 acres the business owned on La. 44, from retail commercial to the next level of commercial zoning that would include businesses like a warehouse operation.
The family, Todd Keating said, hoped to develop the property into a light industrial park. The Keating family’s property is surrounded by tracts with a variety of commercial zonings, including light industrial.
But the council had rejected the rezoning request on a 3-2 vote.
South Park Business Center filed its suit against the city in April.
The plaintiffs in the second lawsuit against the city also filed a motion to dismiss their case this month, on March 16, in the 23rd Judicial District Court in Gonzales.
On Friday, there were still some court costs to be paid and a judge’s signature to make it final, said an employee with the Clerk of Court’s Office.
The plaintiffs in that case, Judge Alvin Turner Jr., of the 23rd Judicial District Court, and his wife, Cherlynn Turner, sued the city in August after the council, again on a 3-2 vote, denied their request to rezone undeveloped property they owned in the city to allow a smaller lot size.
The Turners later sold the property to Joshua McCoy, of McCoy Property Holdings of Denham Springs, but remained plaintiffs in the case, along with the new owner.
To date, the Turners’ lawsuit has been the costliest of the two lawsuits against the city.
In the South Park Business Center litigation, the city was represented by its liability insurer, Risk Management Inc., because there were monetary damages at stake, City Clerk Stafford said.
But it was up to the city to hire attorneys to represent it in the lawsuit the Turners brought, which didn’t seek monetary damages but asked for the court to rezone the property in the Turners’ favor.
Acrimony and the difference of opinion over the rezoning issue was so marked on the council that the mayor and Councilmen Kenny Matassa and Kirk Boudreaux hired one attorney for their representation, and Councilmen Irvin, Lacombe and Vessel hired another.
By late November, the attorney fees for the mayor and two councilmen were about $9,000; the attorney fees for Irvin, Lacombe and Vessel were about $25,000.
At some point after the December recall election, Irvin, Lacombe and Vessel were dropped from the suit.
A new subdivision is now being planned for the property, 29 acres between West Worthey Road and South Darla Avenue, that the Turners once owned.
Earlier this month, the Gonzales Planning and Zoning Commission approved a preliminary plat for 11 lots in Meadow Crossing, a new residential development by McCoy Property Holdings, the new owner of the site.
“Since we’ve had the recall, all kinds of positive things are happening, with business and with subdivisions,” Councilman Matassa said Friday.
Follow Ellyn Couvillion on Twitter, @EllynCouvillion.