Livingston Parish residents packed the council chambers Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, to protest a multi-family complex, Starwood Knoll, proposed south of Walker.

LIVINGSTON — Plans for an apartment complex south of Walker were halted when the Parish Council voted "no" on the proposal late Thursday after an hour of comments from neighbors voicing concerns about the project.

But Livingston Parish's legal adviser said they'll likely need to reconsider if the developer still wants to move forward, since the project complies with the parish's ordinances.

"The law is clear that if it meets the ordinance and they're not asking for variances, then you don't have much of a choice but to approve it," Parish Legal Adviser Chris Moody said after the meeting.

The 152-unit multi-family complex proposed to be built is on nine acres off Bonnie Bleu Drive, near Woodland Crossing subdivision. Garry Lewis — who developed the Satsuma area and is a major local political donor — is the developer.

Dozens of Woodland Crossing residents filled the council chambers to oppose the project. They complained of existing drainage problems, bad roads, sewer smells and traffic on Bonnie Bleu that they feared the new apartment complex would worsen. They also worried that the development would cause their property values to decline and lead to packed schools.

"Let us fix the community before we stack on. We’re looking at a backwards action here. We need to fix our problems first,” said DeeDrá Sellers, an attorney who lives near the proposed complex.

The council voted 5-4 to reject the preliminary site plan for the project, which the planning commission had recommended be approved.

Approving a preliminary site plan effectively gives the developer the right to build the development as long as they perform various required drainage and traffic studies and meet the resulting recommendations.

Council members Jeff Averett, Tracy Girlinghouse, R.C. "Bubba" Harris, Shane Mack and John Wascom voted against approving the proposed complex. Council members Jeff Ard, Maurice "Scooter" Keen, Tab Lobell and Garry "Frog" Talbert voted for it.

The parish councilmen did not offer a specific reason or justification for rejecting the plans.

"Personally, I'm not for it. That's just the way I feel about it," Averett said, soliciting a round of applause and thank you's from the audience.

Girlinghouse said the controversy touched on the need for zoning in Livingston Parish so, "we can put restrictions on things like this happening."

"The growth in the Walker area and Denham Springs and Watson has exceeded the capacity of the infrastructure and that's a hard truth, but it's the truth," he said.

Billy Taylor, an engineer working for the developer, told the Council that Lewis was willing to address a number of the neighbors' concerns. He read aloud a letter from Lewis saying he would put the main entrance on La. Highway 447.

"It will take a little time to get all the permits ... but as long as those can be obtained and is feasible, the entrance on Bonnie Bleu would not be a permanent or main entrance," Taylor read from the letter.

Taylor said Lewis is also open to connecting the complex to a parish sewer system and to putting a park on the property. He said the developer has met all of the parish ordinances and was offering the concessions in the interest of being a good neighbor. 

"He is making this offer in good faith," Taylor said.

Mack said he would like to see those changes built into the plans themselves.

“You’re making all these changes and promises verbally, but there is nothing in writing on these promises,” he said.

Moody, the legal adviser, said after the meeting that the council should be OK legally with their decision Thursday night, because they wanted more information about the concessions Lewis is willing to make to the nearby residents.

But that might not be the case in the future.

"If he satisfies that interest, I think the council will reconsider, or they should, at least," Moody said.

Also Thursday night, the Council:

  • Called a May 4 election on a mosquito abatement fee for residents of Council Districts 2 and 3 in Denham Springs and Watson. The monthly fee of up to $3 per month would be tacked onto residents' water bills.
  • Called a May 4 election for a 10-mill property tax renewal to support Fire District No. 11 tax in eastern Livingston Parish.
  • Introduced an ordinance increasing the stormwater detention requirements in subdivisions with improvements to handle water from a 25-year storm, rather than a 10-year storm, a move that would bring Livingston in line with East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes.
  • Introduced an ordinance to change the council meeting time from 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. 

A public hearing on the proposed ordinances will be held Jan. 24 at 6 p.m.

Follow Caroline Grueskin on Twitter, @cgrueskin.