8-year effort to build parking lot at Hoss Memtsas Stadium could be nearing finish line _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--The Jefferson School Board has sued to force the sale of last parcels of property on 800 Brown Ave., foreground, where they want to build a parking lot across from West Jefferson High School's Hoss Memstas Stadium seen here, background, in Harvey, La. Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015.

An eight-year effort by the Jefferson Parish School Board to acquire the land to build a badly needed parking lot at a popular West Bank football stadium may be nearing the finish line.

Officials this week filed a lawsuit asking a judge to force the owners of eight parcels still needed for the parking lot for Hoss Memtsas Stadium to sell the properties to the School Board in exchange for what the board argues is fair market value.

As a government body, the School Board has the legal right to take private property it deems necessary for a public purpose, as long as it provides fair compensation to the owners.

The School Board already has bought seven parcels for a parking lot facing Brown Avenue, directly across from the stadium at West Jefferson High School.

However, according to documents filed in 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna, the dozen or so people who own the remaining eight parcels have either not received or not sent back papers agreeing to sell their land to the School Board.

The board’s lawsuit asks a judge to order the owners to sell the properties to the board in return for payments of between $40,400 and $135,000 per parcel. Those prices were set by a qualified appraiser, said Olden Toups, who is representing the School Board in the case.

The defendants in the suit have the right to seek a second appraisal and to ask the judge — in this case, Adrian Adams — to base the sale price on that estimate if it’s higher, Toups said. They could sign purchase agreements with the School Board or take the case to trial, he said.

A trial date could be set in the next year, perhaps within months, Toups said. By law, such suits receive priority over other matters on judges’ dockets.

Attempts to reach the defendants were not successful. However, Toups said he does not get the impression there is strong opposition among the landowners to letting the School Board expropriate the land it needs for the parking lot.

To him, the problems are more logistical in nature.

For example, some of the landowners don’t live on Brown Avenue, and officials haven’t been able to find the contact information necessary to get them the papers. Other owners certified receiving the sale papers but have neither returned them nor sought a new appraisal.

One of the owners named in the suit is ready to sell his parcel, but the transaction has been held up because of complications with the property’s title. That owner can expect to be dropped from the suit when the title questions are settled, Toups said.

“Basically, we did our due diligence,” he said. “But now, we really have no recourse but to expropriate.”

The School Board doesn’t often exercise its expropriation rights. However, Hoss Memtsas hosts a multitude of high school football games and athletic contests involving both public and private schools, such as West Jefferson and Archbishop Shaw. The stadium has a capacity of about 7,000, and a notorious shortage of parking means spectators must seek spots in nearby residential neighborhoods or along the adjacent West Bank Expressway, neither of which officials consider to be ideal.

In late 2007, therefore, the School Board voted to spend about $800,000 to acquire more than a dozen parcels on the block bounded by Brinker Street to the north, Brown Avenue to the east, Estalote Avenue to the west and the expressway to the south.

The board has since demolished a handful of structures — some of which were in disrepair — at some of the lots it’s managed to purchase, panel member Mark Morgan said.

Board member Ray St. Pierre said the parking lot, when finished, would be asphalt-covered and would have lighting and fencing.

He said he did not know how much it would cost to build it, but he believes it would boost attendance at Memtsas events among people who avoid the stadium now because of how difficult it is to park there.