Citing a need for further consideration, Harahan’s Planning and Zoning Commission decided late Wednesday to defer action on a request by the owners of the former Colonial Golf & Country Club to subdivide a commercial portion of the 88-acre property into six lots.
After an hour of discussion that included hearing residents' concerns about drainage, sewerage and the likelihood of future residential development, board Chairman Michael Amedeo proposed the deferral, and it passed unanimously.
Jack Capella appeared on behalf of property owners Wayne Ducote and John Georges, who also owns The New Orleans Advocate. Capella told the board that an assisted living facility and a retail operator are among the tenants eager to start building on two of the proposed lots at Jefferson Highway and Colonial Club Drive.
Through their company J.W. Colonial, the owners have also talked to a grocery store and Ochsner Health System, which expressed interest in a walk-in clinic at the site.
"We're trying to move forward. That’s why we are in front of you,” Capella told the commission.
According to the subdivision application, the 15-acre parcel would have a 1.5-acre lot on the corner, with a 2-acre lot and a 3-acre lot along Jefferson Highway and a roughly 4-acre lot on Colonial Club Drive, plus a 4-acre lot and a 1-acre lot in the back of the property. The 4-acre lot in the back center of the property is the one being eyed for an assisted living facility, Capella said.
The property would have another 15-acre parcel behind it for stormwater drainage, though some residents are still concerned that developing the commercial properties will cause drainage problems.
Capella acknowledged the controversy Wednesday but stressed that the only thing before the board was the subdivision of property that already has been designated as commercial.
Amedeo said that while that was in fact the case, residents would be allowed to voice any opinions they had on the entire project, including concerns about residential development.
Terri Valenti said she and many of her fellow residents are worried about the potential impact the development would have on the lives of those around it, whether it concerns drainage, sewerage overload or quality of life.
"Are we going to come out ahead or are we going to come out behind?” she asked.
Another resident, Barbara Varney, put it even more succinctly. “If I flood, I’m going to sue somebody,” she said.
Capella said the development would be required to meet the city's drainage and sewerage requirements and assured the room that the owners would take into consideration any reasonable concerns about buffering nearby residences from the new businesses.
The development of the Colonial property was a major point of contention under the prior city administration and council. It has been dormant for about three years after Ducote and Georges worked out an agreement with the former administration to hold off on residential development on 40 acres in the center of the property. That agreement expired in 2015.
An agreement last year that restricted the development of 40 acres at the center of the form…
Divisions over the use of the property loomed large in the Harahan elections in late 2014, and the potential development caused major divisions in the mostly residential community of fewer than 10,000 people.
It has had "a huge effect on the harmony of Harahan," said commission member Tommy Budde.
Some of the commissioners were on the zoning panel the last time the issue came up, though many on the eight-member board are new.
Board member Dale Valez noted that shooting down the request would not return the property to the rural zoning many opponents want, and that the owners can develop the property commercially as it stands today, as long as the new building is less than 170,000 square feet and under 36 feet high.
“It is C-1. There is nothing we can do about that," he said. "It’s not going back to R-1.”
Valez said Harahan should look to Metairie Road and Harrison Avenue as models for commercial development in residential areas, noting that those neighborhoods have high property values.
Budde suggested that because two of the commercial lots are on Colonial Club Drive, they should have extensive buffer zones similar to what was done on the Tolmas tract in Metairie.
Any approval by the zoning board would ultimately have to go before the City Council. Several council members were in attendance Wednesday.
About 44 acres of the former Colonial Golf and Country Club site could be preserved as green…