State District Judge Wilson Fields ruled Wednesday that an upscale traditional neighborhood development planned in Central can move forward and that lawmakers were within their rights to approve it.
Three Central residents brought a lawsuit against their mayor and a handful of council members, alleging they violated city zoning ordinances in approving The Settlement at Shoe Creek, to be built off Sullivan Road.
Fields said at a preliminary hearing Wednesday that not enough evidence supported the plaintiffs’ claims that the officials were acting out of the scope of their public duties and that he would not at this point halt progress on the development.
“It was the outcome that we expected,” Mayor Jr. Shelton said after the ruling.
Seth Dornier, the plaintiffs’ attorney, argued that Central’s elected officials made major mistakes when approving the development. Plaintiff David Freneaux said he and Michael Mannino and Michael Stephens believed a lawsuit was their only course of action to make sure the city officials followed the law.
Dornier noted that the city has stricter rules for traditional neighborhood developments than for other types of developments. Among those rules are tighter regulations on how many apartments a development can have. Dornier argued that under Central’s zoning rules, Shoe Creek could have 41 apartments rather than the 250 planned.
The attorneys for Shelton, the council members and Shoe Creek — which intervened in the lawsuit — said the zoning code gives the city flexibility to increase the apartment numbers. Council members and defendants Kim Fralick, Wayne Messina, John Vance and Shane Evans all testified it was within their rights to increase the density of the apartments.
Dornier also alleged Shelton entered into a faulty contract with developer Jeff Couvillion, who previously built a private street that runs alongside the proposed Shoe Creek development. Couvillion testified the mayor had asked him to extend the street and said the city would change the street’s designation from private to public.
Dornier argued the mayor did not have the authority to enter into the contract with Couvillion. Attorneys for the city and the development insisted Couvillion’s street was supposed to extend farther when it was built years ago, long before Shoe Creek was planned.
Fields set an Oct. 23 hearing to permanently take up the matter. Dornier said he is confident about the outcome of the next one.
“We knew that was an uphill battle, but it hasn’t even begun yet,” he said.
Shoe Creek developers have charged forward over the last week. They purchased a 102.2-acre tract of land for Shoe Creek in a $3.5 million deal filed Tuesday with the East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court’s Office.
The sellers were Larna Davis Gervasi Andrews, of South Lion, Michigan, and William Rufus Gervasi, of The Woodlands, Texas.
Prescott Bailey, of Southern Lifestyle Development, said the company had an agreement to buy the land for Shoe Creek and carried out the transaction Tuesday. Bailey, who testified at Wednesday’s hearing, said Shoe Creek still has one more 15-acre parcel it has not closed on yet.
The Settlement at Shoe Creek will be a 150-acre development featuring a variety of apartments, cottages, town homes and single-family homes, along with office and retail space. Plans are to have 700 housing units in the development.
Southern Lifestyle Development is negotiating with potential retail tenants and working to develop a list of approved builders. The plan is to break ground on Shoe Creek by the end of this year or the first part of 2016.
Advocate staff writer Tim Boone contributed to this report.