It's been two years almost to the day since the Mandeville City Council voted to reject the controversial Port Marigny project that had dominated public discussions in the city since 2015.

Mandeville City Council votes to kill Port Marigny project; action was a surprise

But that vote simply moved the dispute over the future of the 78-acre abandoned industrial site to the legal arena after property owners Marcus and Michael Pittman sued the city the following month. That suit is scheduled to be heard before U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier on March 25.

The list of witnesses for both sides includes an exhaustive roster of the city's elected officials, department heads, lawyers who were involved in the previous lengthy wrangling over the plans and, in the city's case, a land use expert initially hired by residents fighting the project.

The Pittmans originally filed suit in 22nd Judicial District Court following the council's rejection of the mixed-use development the brothers hoped to see built on the last large, undeveloped tract on the city's lakefront.

Mandeville council seeks move to federal court for Port Marigny suit

But Mandeville's attorneys filed a motion to remove the case to federal court, arguing that the plaintiffs had raised constitutional issues. The argument that the council's action amounted to an unconstitutional "taking" of their land is at the heart of the Pittmans' case.

The site, formerly occupied by a Prestressed Concrete plant, would have been developed with hundreds of residential units along with stores, a marina and a hotel. But opponents criticized the project's size, scale and density, saying it would create traffic and other problems.

Port Marigny's "traditional neighborhood" design is an example of so-called New Urbanism that calls for more density, narrower streets and a more walkable configuration than typical suburban development. But opponents saw it as a bad fit for Mandeville.

Even after the City Council rejected Port Marigny, in large part because some of the land was below 5 feet in elevation and thus off-limits for building under the zoning code, the project's foes have fretted privately and publicly about the possibility of an out-of-court settlement. They have expressed fear that the city was not mounting a sufficiently vigorous defense.

Former City Councilman Ernest Burguières, who was still in office when the project was first discussed, said he was reassured when Mandeville's attorneys filed a motion earlier this year for summary judgment, or dismissal of the lawsuit, something he said should have been done much sooner.

Controversial Port Marigny development moves a step forward

The council voted in late December on a rezoning for the land that laid out strict limits for how it could be developed — something that some opponents feared was a move toward a settlement. The Pittmans objected to the action, however, calling it a move by the city to avoid liability "for the complete deprivation of our property rights."

Indeed, the city leans heavily on the rezoning ordinance in its argument for a summary judgment, saying that the Pittmans' lawsuit is premature and their claims have been made moot by the city's action.

Summary judgment would mean that the case wouldn't go to trial, and earlier this month, Barbier canceled oral arguments on that motion that had been scheduled for Feb. 27. He will make a ruling based on written briefs, according to the court filing.

Councilman Mike Pulaski, whose district includes the property, said he thinks the decision to cancel oral arguments on the motion for summary judgment was a good sign for the city.

"I think it's going to wrap up one way or the other," he said.

Pulaski said that the Pittmans have not taken depositions from him or Councilman John Keller, although they did question Councilman Clay Madden. They also deposed Councilwoman Lauré Sica about a year ago, according to records.

But Pulaski said it seems that after deposing Madden, the Pittmans "kind of shut down."

Michael Pittman said simply, "We still have a trial date."

Calling the process a "long road," Pittman said that he and his brother did everything they were asked to do by the city.

"I feel that we did absolutely nothing wrong, and I feel that we got a unanimous vote from (the) Planning and Zoning (Commission), who were charged and were the experts to study this issue. And I feel that the city did not do as they should have done," Pittman said.

"It's absolutely insane."

Whether an out-of-court settlement might still be reached isn't clear.

Pulaski said that he is "kind of in the dark now" and that none of the council members have been involved in any settlement talks, adding that the lawyers might not want them involved.

But Pulaski didn't rule it out. "If it's a good deal, it's the best thing that could happen," he said. "Maybe people will come to their senses and get this resolved."


Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.