Artist's rendering of the towering monument signs that are proposed to be constructed at the Lakeshore development south of Slidell. 

Graphic provided

After telling the St. Tammany Parish Planning Department for two months that it wanted extensive changes to a proposed ordinance defining and regulating “reception venues,” the parish Zoning Commission approved the ordinance at its March 6 meeting after changing just two words.

The ordinance defines a reception venue as “an establishment providing space for meetings, receptions, or similar gatherings,” and provides for small, medium, and large sizes that could accommodate 150, 500, or more than 500 people, respectively.

As initially drafted and introduced at the commission’s January meeting, the ordinance would have allowed small venues to be located in NC-4 Neighborhood Institutional zoning districts, medium venues in NC-6 Neighborhood Public, Cultural, and Recreational districts, and large venues in HC-2 Highway Commercial districts.

After public discussion at their January and February meetings, commissioners told Planning Department staffers that they wanted the ordinance redrafted to allow small venues in NC-6, medium venues in HC-1, and large venues in HC-2.

Commissioners also said that the ordinance should specify parking requirements and require that all events be held indoors to minimize noise in the surrounding areas.

When the ordinance reappeared on the March agenda, none of the language had been changed. Assistant Planning Director Helen Lambert said more time was needed to advertise a rewritten ordinance, and asked for a postponement until the commission’s May meeting.

When public comments were opened, attorney Jeff Schoen, speaking on behalf of Dawn Pekarik, who owns Bayou Haven Bed and Breakfast in Slidell, told commissioners that there was no need for another postponement and encouraged commissioners to act on the ordinance that evening.

Schoen argued that commissioners could change the zoning designations without re-advertising the wording change, and that the parking and noise issues were already covered by other parish ordinances.

Commissioner Jimmie Davis responded that, while Schoen’s position might be valid, he wanted to re-advertise the ordinance as a courtesy to Planning Department staffers and other commissioners who had worked together over the past month to revise the wording, and to let the public know a vote would take place.

Several members of the public supported Davis on another postponement, but Schoen countered that if the ordinance were approved by the commission, it would then go to the St. Tammany Parish Council for review and adoption, and further changes could be made there.

After discussion, commissioners approved the ordinance after requiring that small venues be allowed in NC-5 instead of NC-4, and that medium venues be allowed in HC-1 instead of NC-6.

As approved, the ordinance does not specify parking requirements or require that events be held indoors, as commissioners had originally insisted.

The vote was 9-2, with commissioners Martha Cazaubon and Ronald Randolph voting against.

In the other major action of the evening, commissioners approved a request by D.R. Horton, Inc. to erect signage at the entrance to its Lakeshore development despite a Planning Department recommendation that the request be denied.

Horton, the nation’s largest homebuilder with 400,000 homesites nationwide, has a long-range plan to develop more than 2,500 homesites on 1,100 acres on the lakefront southeast of Slidell.

Horton sought approval for two “monument” signs flanking the entrance to the subdivision on the I-10 East Service Road. Each sign would be 48 feet tall, with 4-foot lettering and more than 930 square feet of surface space, which is almost 20 times greater than the 48-square-foot limit on residential subdivision signage allowed in parish subdivision ordinances.

Corey Laughner, Horton’s landscape architect, conceded that the signage was “large,” but said it was “not without precedent” and was similar to signage used for Horton developments in other parts of the country.

Laughner said an “appropriately scaled entry experience” was needed to get people’s attention on the busy I-10 corridor and to make the property marketable.

Rather than follow planners’ advice to deny the request, commissioners were enthusiastic and said the signage was merited.

Cazaubon immediately moved to approve the request, saying, “This is a first-class development. I think the structure fits the particular area.”

Patrick Fitzmorris seconded the motion saying, “I agree. I think it is time, and given the area, it fits.”

Todd Richard added, “This is an extraordinary opportunity, and I support it as well.”

Kirk Drumm complimented Horton, who was in the audience, on sites Drumm said he had seen in other parts of the country and said, “I think this is going to work out fine.”

Commissioners approved the signage without a dissenting vote.