An eastern St. Tammany Parish recreation district that wants to create a facility like Mandeville’s Pelican Park near the Slidell Airport will ask voters May 2 to approve a total of 8.9 mills for the first phase of the planned Camellia Park.
The Parish Council voted Thursday to allow St. Tammany Recreation District No. 16 to put two millages on the ballot: a 4.75-mill tax to fund a $14 million, 20-year bond issue to pay for construction of the 75-acre first phase and a 10-year, 4.15-mill tax that would generate $800,000 a year to operate and maintain the facility. Both are needed to make the project a reality, said Sharon Hewitt, president of the recreation district’s board.
The district covers Wards 8 and 9, excluding Slidell and the Oak Harbor/Eden Isles area. Hewitt said the average cost of a house in the district is $153,000, and the 8.9 mills would cost such a homeowner $66 a year in additional property taxes.
The bond issue also will need the approval of the state Bond Commission before it can go on the ballot.
Recreation District No. 16 was established in 2009 at the behest of residents in the area, but its board wasn’t appointed until late 2011 and early 2012. It then hired a consultant to devise a master plan that it made public in late August.
Hewitt made a brief presentation at the Parish Council meeting, outlining how the district has fine-tuned its proposal since then.
Board members initially had hoped to expand the boundaries of the district to take in more property before going to voters.
The district originally planned a $21 million facility on a 300-acre site on U.S. 190, which would have required a $1.3 million operation budget and a 13.15-mill tax.
“We talked to a lot of groups and got a lot of good feedback,’’ Hewitt said. “They loved the idea — and said it cost too much money.’’
The district had hoped to persuade the city of Slidell and Recreation District No. 9 to become a part of District 16, increasing the amount of property in the district and thereby lowering the necessary millage.
But Slidell officials are concerned about the city’s need to pay for repairs to its sewer infrastructure and didn’t want to do anything that might jeopardize the chances of passing a tax for that critical work, Hewitt said.
The possibility remains that the city could join in the future when the district pursues additional phases of what officials hope ultimately will become a facility of more than 300 acres, she said.
The board scaled back the plans, in part by taking baseball and softball fields out of the first phase. A private developer is pursuing plans to build a seven-field facility, Hewitt said. The board decided to include those fields in a future phase, she said.
The district also was able to hold down costs by moving the site. The Salmen family, which owns the land, was willing to allow the district to buy the first 75 acres with the option of buying another 300 acres in the future. The other site would have required the district to buy all the land at once. That saved about $7 million, Hewitt said.
Plans for the first phase include a gymnasium with one or two basketball courts, a 50-meter swimming pool, 12 tennis courts and four rectangular fields that can be used for soccer, football and lacrosse.
Public tennis courts and pools are scarce in the eastern end of the parish, Hewitt said, and are only available to most people through private clubs. The 50-meter pool would enable competitive swimmers to practice for long-course races, she said, adding that it would be “the nicest pool this side of Baton Rouge.’’
She described it as an improvement to the quality of life for residents of the recreation district and a way to generate economic development.
The site is located west of the airport near the intersection of Airport Road and Belair Boulevard.
Later in the meeting, some residents of the Bayou Liberty area raised concerns about the plans Hewitt mentioned concerning the baseball facility. Chris Jean, the property’s owner, was seeking a zoning change on 60 acres east of Thompson Road from a residential planned unit development to a community-based facilities district.
Three people addressed the council to voice concerns about flooding if trees are removed at the site and about the noise a ballpark would generate.
Councilman Steve Stefancik said he has held two public meetings on the matter and thought the community’s concerns had been assuaged. He said the Parish Council does not have the authority to add requirements to a rezoning, such as setting times for games or establishing decibel levels. The council can only approve or reject the rezoning, he said.
He said, however, that the developer will continue to work with the neighborhood to address its requests. The rezoning was approved unanimously.
This story was altered on Feb. 6, 2014 to correct the first name of Sharon Hewitt.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.