Residents of Oak Lawn East subdivision in Lacombe filled the St. Tammany Parish Council chamber Thursday night seeking denial of a zoning change that would allow manufactured housing on a 3.5-acre tract in their neighborhood, but the council sided with the Zoning Commission, which had unanimously approved the change April 1.
Residents of the neighborhood, represented by attorney Paul Tabary, argued that allowing manufactured housing in the subdivision would result in a devaluation of property values and open the door to more mobile homes.
Tabary said that while there are mobile homes in the subdivision, they were put there without Zoning Commission approval and in violation of restrictive covenants that were put in place when the subdivision was created in 1960. Of the 98 homes in the subdivision, 65 percent are brick or wooden and 35 percent are mobile homes, he said.
The lack of enforcement of the covenants makes judicial enforcement impossible, he said. But the area is still zoned single-family residential without any mobile home overlays, and that zoning should remain in place, he said.
The owner, Michael Fridge, had also sought the rezoning in 2011, when the Parish Council overrode the Zoning Commission and denied the change unanimously.
The only difference now, Tabary said, is that Fridge wanted one mobile home in 2011 and now he wants two. He said Fridge’s plans to rent the land out will create what Tabary said will look like a trailer park.
“We’ve already gone through this process,’’ said Jason Kahl, whose property abuts Fridge’s. “We’ve already done this before. And y’all agreed with us that it should be denied. We’re asking you to deny this one more time.”
Attorney Jeff Schoen, representing Fridge, said his client should be granted the zoning change because of the mixed character of the neighborhood. There was a mobile home on the property when Fridge bought it in 2007, Schoen said. Fridge evicted the tenant and removed the mobile home, but he has been unable to find a buyer or builder for the land, Schoen said.
Both times Fridge sought this change, the parish planning staff recommended approval because of the heavy presence of mobile homes in the area, and both times the Zoning Commission voted in favor of the change, Schoen said.
“It would be unfair to deny my client to do the same thing that many of his neighbors have done,’’ he said.
Councilman Jake Groby asked his colleagues to override the Zoning Commission, saying that residents in the subdivision didn’t know they had the right to enforce restrictive covenants. He also said the proximity of Timberland Mobile Home Park should not be a factor, noting that other nearby subdivisions have predominantly built homes.
Councilman Steve Stefancik said he turned down a similar request in his district because there was no previous mobile home overlay in a subdivision. “Once you put one in there, the precedent is set,’’ Stefancik said. “I’m a little concerned when a precedent is set.’’
Several council members asked how many lots are still undeveloped in the subdivision. Resident James Cousin said there are 12 to 15 acres of green space and predicted that the zoning change would ultimately lead to the creation of a trailer park.
But the vote to override the Zoning Commission decision failed, with only Groby, Stefancik, Reid Falcolner and Maureen O’Brien voting for the motion.
Councilmen Marty Dean, Dennis Sharp, James “Red’’ Thompson, Richard Tanner, Chris Canulette, Gene Bellisario, Jerry Binder, Richard Artique and T.J. Smith voted against the override, with Councilman Marty Gould abstaining.
Opponents left the chambers grumbling and promising to remember the votes at election time.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter at @spagonesadvocat.