Several St. Tammany Parish residents argued Thursday night against a measure to allow larger boathouses, saying bigger structures will harm the area’s scenic rivers by creating what opponent Barbara Dodds called visual pollution.
Current law limits boathouses to 800 square feet, but Councilman Richard Artigue is seeking an increase to 1,600 square feet, a change he said is necessary for large yachts. Doing so will help lakefront development, he said, adding that other nearby jurisdictions allow even larger boathouses — up to 2,000 square feet.
But several audience members warned about the effect on the parish’s 10 scenic rivers.
George Penn, who owns a house on the Tchefuncte River, said he also was speaking as a representative of the Sierra Club and a “longtime river rat.”
He said the ordinance under consideration could be a violation of state law and likely would result in litigation.
“It’s a further diminution of God’s creation and our property values,” he said.
Sean Reily, who lives on Bayou Liberty, said the proposed change would benefit only a few people with larger boats at the expense of hundreds, or even thousands, of people who would have to live with the negative effect on the landscape.
Dodds supported a proposed amendment that would require property owners to file copies of all permits required by state and federal agencies before applying for any building permit affecting natural and scenic rivers.
But Dodds and other opponents said they would prefer an ordinance that specifically excludes scenic rivers from the change in boathouse size.
Council members discussed making a change to that effect, but their legal counsel, Terry Hand, said such an amendment could not be voted on Thursday night because it represents a change in substance, not just a procedural change.
Artigue said he has been trying to get the increase adopted for four months, and his ordinance was adopted.
Councilman Steve Stefancik said he would draft an ordinance to be introduced at the next meeting to exclude scenic waterways from the new rule, pointing out that the parish worked hard to persuade the Legislature to adopt scenic river protections in the first place.
The council’s determination to act Thursday led audience member Terri Lewis Stevens to suggest that someone could seek a permit for a bigger boathouse on a scenic stream before the council has a chance to adopt the ordinance Stefancik plans to introduce.
But Hand and Jeff Schoen, an attorney who favored increasing boathouse limits, said the Scenic River Law requires 45 days to elapse between an application for a permit and its issuance. That would make it impossible for a property owner to act before the Parish Council can vote to exclude scenic rivers, they said.
The council adopted a 60-day emergency moratorium on the issuance of any building permits for boathouses over 800 square feet on scenic rivers and introduced an ordinance for a six-month moratorium to be voted on later.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.