July 4 celebration on Mandeville lakefront gets go-ahead _lowres

Advocate file photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- More than 200 people begin the trek Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, during the annual St. Vincent DePaul Society Walk for the Poor on the Mandeville Lakefront. ;

Some Mandeville residents hold these truths to be self-evident: that the lakefront belongs to everyone and was intended by the city’s founder to be the site of recreational activities such as picnicking and the public celebration that will be held there July 4.

The Mandeville City Council this week approved a permit for that event, which included a lifting of the ban on eating and drinking that is otherwise in place along the town’s lakefront.

But not everyone at the meeting welcomed the prospect of hot dog-grilling, beer-swilling picnickers invading the city’s tranquil shore when public fireworks return to the area for the first time since 2007.

People who live near the lakefront told the council that they are concerned about potential harm to grassy areas, parking scofflaws, traffic woes and the litter that picnickers will leave behind.

Local preservationist Becky Rohrbough, who lives on Lakeshore Drive, acknowledged that the recent Mandeville Family Reunion, which also allowed picnicking, did not cause problems. But she said the city is creating a “free-for-all” with the July 4 event, one that poses a danger to the stately oak trees on the lakefront from careless people who ignore parking prohibitions and cause damage to the trees’ roots.

The area needs to be protected and respected, she said, noting that she has had “a front-row seat to tremendous abuse.”

Jay Crosby, who lives in the area, suggested that picnicking could be limited to the portion of the lakefront that is zoned for business — between Coffee Street and Marigny Avenue — instead of the entire lakefront.

But Kurt Frosch, one of the organizers of the Mandeville Family Reunion, which just wrapped up its fourth annual event, said the shady area is more desirable, especially for older people who can’t handle the heat.

“We’ve opened up the lakefront for picnicking in the past and have had not problems,” Mayor Donald Villere said.

But the council debated the minutiae of the event extensively, asking the mayor to use barricades to keep people from parking on the grass. When he told them the city does not have enough barricades, they asked him to erect temporary signs to remind people of the rules.

Police Chief Rick Richard said he would have five officers working that day and they would be aggressive in enforcing the law.

The council also debated the starting time for the event. The permit, sought by the city administration, set the hours as 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., but some council members said that was too early and ultimately voted to move the opening to 11 a.m.

But while the council was working hard to assuage the concerns of nearby residents, the pro-picnicking contingent grew restive.

“The lakefront doesn’t belong to the people who live on Lakeshore Drive,” Jerry Coogan, a former councilman, said, triggering applause. “All this negativity, I don’t understand it. I truly don’t.”

Discussion about the lakefront didn’t end with the vote on the July 4 permit.

Many in the audience had come to the meeting to discuss an ordinance that was only up for introduction. Authored by Councilman Rick Danielson, it defines areas that are “more suited” to hold special events: Sunset Point, the Mandeville Trailhead on the Tammany Trace, the harbor area on the eastern end of Lakeshore Drive and the area of Lakeshore Drive between Coffee Street and Marigny Avenue.

The favored area for the Mandeville Family Reunion, under the oak trees, was not included, prompting an outcry from organizers and fans of that event.

“We remember when we could use the lakefront for its intended purpose, laid out by the city’s founder,” Frosch said, referring to early 19th century developer Bernard de Marigny.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.