A controversial plan for a new luxury car dealership in south Lafayette has cleared a procedural hurdle, despite fierce objections from people who live nearby.
The Planning Commission voted 4-0 on Monday to grant preliminary approval for Fabre Realty to proceed with a new Acura dealership next door to its existing Infiniti dealership near Johnston Street and Canberra Road. Commissioner Thomas Hooks was absent.
Nearby residents have vociferously objected over the last several months for a variety of reasons, chiefly because they fear the development will make them more vulnerable to flooding. They are especially incensed at Fabre’s plans to convert a 7-acre grassy field behind the dealerships into a parking lot for excess inventory.
Opponents say the area has developed too rapidly over the last decade or so, specifically with respect to car dealerships. There are a half dozen or more dealerships in the half-mile stretch of Johnston Street between South City Parkway and Canberra Road.
Longtime residents such as Jonathan Joubert, whose family has lived on Parsonage Lane behind the lot that would be paved over for more than two decades, say that routine rainfalls produce standing water on their properties, something that didn’t happen prior to the recent commercial development.
“This is the first time that I’ve ever seen water up to my door,” Joubert told planning commissioners Monday prior to the vote. “My concern is if we just put concrete up, what’s going to happen. I think it’s going to flood.”
The deadline for appeals to the Planning Commission's decision is May 21, and any interested person can submit an appeal. The City-Parish Council will consider any appeals, likely in July. If there are no appeals, the city-parish administration will give final approval once Fabre has satisfied a set of conditions, including submission of a drainage impact analysis.
The City-Parish Council in January approved Fabre’s request to rezone the site, again despite angry protests from nearby residents.
The councilwoman representing the district, Liz Hebert, said at the time she supported the rezoning in part because of a new ordinance requiring new developments that are 2½ acres or larger to reduce storm runoff by 15 percent.
Hebert said Fabre also agreed to add sidewalks, limit test drives and add more landscaping than what the development code requires.
Unless the council kills the project as the result of an appeal, the administration will consider the drainage impact analysis when determining if plans satisfy the new ordinance.
Public Works Director Mark Dubroc told council members in January, prior to the rezone vote, that the administration has “consistently” rejected drainage plans, even without the new ordinance. Initial rejections don't typically sink projects, however, as developers are motivated to modify plans according to the administration’s demands, Dubroc said.
“We live in the hardest place in the country to provide detention and drainage,” Dubroc said. “We have the worst soils for drainage, we have the flattest terrain for drainage, and we have an incredible amount of rainfall.”
John Fabre, co-owner of Fabre Realty, previously told The Advocate that the company plans to invest about $7 million in the project but the cost of compliance with the new ordinance was an unknown variable.
“It takes a lot of engineering just to break even,” Fabre said, referring to maintaining existing drainage levels. “Now they want 15 percent better than that.”
The new ordinance is no comfort to Joubert and his neighbors. Joubert told commissioners that, if the project proceeds, he and his wife will sell the home on Parsonage Lane that he moved into as a teenager and returned to with his family five years ago.
Joseph Yarbrough, an engineer with CSRS who described himself to the Planning Commission as the project manager, did not directly address the drainage concerns after residents spoke. Developers on Monday were not seeking drainage approvals, which will come at a later time, Yarbrough said.
Robert Brown, who has lived on a corner lot on Canberra Road since 1999 and voiced his objections to the Planning Commission, said after the meeting that he, too, will sell if the dealership goes forward.
“Since the Infiniti dealership went in, we’ve had nothing but problems with drainage and water building up on my yard. My yard is like a mud hole,” Brown said. “More concrete, more concrete, more concrete. There’s nowhere for the water to go.”