The Harahan City Council approved an agreement Thursday night that requires the owners of the former Colonial Golf and Country Club to try to turn about 40 acres of the property into a park. It also restricts the amount and type of development that would be allowed there if that effort fails.
The agreement, which was requested by Mayor Vinny Mosca and council members after an earlier rezoning that will allow a shopping center to be built on part of the property fronting Jefferson Highway, was approved by a 4-1 vote.
Councilwoman Cindy Murray, who has been an ardent opponent of development on the Colonial property, cast the dissenting vote.
The other council members said the new agreement is aimed at providing more stringent regulations and reducing the impact of potential development on nearby residents.
The former country club is owned by John Georges, who also owns The New Orleans Advocate, and developer Wayne Ducote.
The final version of the agreement came after officials debated 29 different drafts over the past year.
Under the agreement, the owners are required to put off development of the middle section of the property until at least April 2015 while they look for nonprofits, government entities or private philanthropists prepared to buy the 40-acre parcel and turn it into a park.
If that effort fails, developers would be allowed to put single-family homes on the property, which already is zoned for residential use.
The new agreement puts restrictions on that development, however, limiting the number of houses that could be built to 76 rather than the several hundred that would be allowed under the existing zoning.
It also requires that development be set back 35 feet from the property line on the Glenwood Drive side of the property and 75 feet from the property line on the Colonial Club Drive side. The buffer on the Colonial Club Drive side could be used for drainage and public spaces, according to the agreement.
Any development of that portion of the Colonial property also would need to conform with other city regulations and zoning.
The City Council approved a rezoning last year that will allow commercial development on the 15 acres of the property fronting Jefferson Highway. The next 15 acres will have to be used for drainage.
The remaining 18 acres of the Colonial property, near the Mississippi River levee, are being set aside for private homes for Georges and Ducote.
Concerns about the project from residents and Murray focused on fears that the deal would waive other city requirements dealing with drainage, zoning and other issues.
“I don’t necessarily think this is for the health, welfare and safety of our community,” Murray said, referencing the city’s subdivision ordinance, which lays out those goals in its preamble. “That’s my take on it. Personally, I don’t like it, I will vote ‘no’ for it, and I will probably be the lone person to vote against it.”
Planner Stephen Villavaso, who works for the city, attempted to put those fears to rest. “We don’t have to put things that are already in the law in the development agreement. We put things that are issues of concern,” he said.
Councilman Lawrence Landry said he supported the deal because of those additional restrictions. Without the agreement, he said, there would be nothing to stop higher-density residential development on the property.
“They could just say, ‘Here are your rules; we’re going to start,’ ” Landry said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.