Measures to allow development of Tolmas Tract pass Jefferson council _lowres

 

A pair of measures that will pave the way for the development of the so-called Tolmas Tract, the largest expanse of undeveloped property on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, cleared the Jefferson Parish Council on Wednesday.

The development proposal, which could end a half-century-long battle over the fate of the property, stems from an agreement between neighboring residents and Morning Park LLC, the development company that bought the property in 2004.

It calls for putting a commercial building on a portion of the site fronting Veterans. That building would be surrounded on two sides by homes, and developers have agreed to other measures aimed at buffering the neighborhood from the impacts of the commercial property.

Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng, whose district includes the property near Causeway Boulevard and who started the dialogue between residents and developers over the site’s future, reiterated Wednesday that for a long time she didn’t believe a compromise would ever come.

“Frankly, I always thought this matter would be settled in the courts instead of by this council,” she said.

But the two sides “slowly started to realize each other’s position, and you all have worked for two years, and a compromise has developed,” she said.

The plan for the Tolmas Tract was agreed upon early this year after negotiations between Morning Park and representatives of the Whitney-Cecile Home Owners and Improvements Association, which includes the areas surrounding the site. The members of the homeowners association then gave overwhelming support to the plan.

The agreement calls for five homes to be built fronting the residential streets to the north and east of the two-block stretch and the rest of the site to become a commercial development.

Developers also agreed to other provisions, such as paying the legal fees incurred by the association in its efforts to fight Morning Park’s plans in the past, constructing a wall to further buffer the neighborhood and waiting until construction starts on at least two of the homes before breaking ground on the commercial site.

The council took two actions Wednesday to allow development of the site. The first was to agree to sell the portion of Tolmas Drive that runs through the property to Morning Park for $610,000 to allow the developers to close the road and build on an undivided site. The second changed the site’s zoning to allow both the residential and commercial developments.

The measures were approved unanimously.

The Tolmas Tract has been a highly debated property since the 1960s, with residents arguing it should be divided into residential lots while developers sought to bring commercial development to the site. That debate culminated in a failed lawsuit by Morning Park seeking permission to have the property declared a commercial lot.

Negotiations between the residents and developers began while the lawsuit was working its way through the courts.

Developer Joseph Georgusis said Morning Park will now have to see what businesses are interested in the property. Once that’s determined, the developers can seek approval for a site plan for the commercial areas of the property.

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.