When Mike Waller built several mixed-use buildings along the Tammany Trace in Old Mandeville in the mid-2000s, he was optimistic that the area would continue to develop and that some older, industrial-type sites would give way to a more pedestrian-friendly retail and dining district several blocks from the lake.
That has happened — to a degree. But it has been slower than Waller and several other business owners had hoped. They blame city zoning regulations for hindering development and preventing some undeveloped sites around the Trailhead — an attractive park along the Trace — from turning into a buzzing commercial center.
That’s why Waller and several others who own property around the Trace appeared before the Mandeville City Council on consecutive nights this week to oppose a proposed moratorium on ground-floor residential development around the Trailhead.
While it may sound like a technical matter, the proposed moratorium was intended to make sure that a large piece of property adjacent to the Trailhead does not turn into cheap apartments or condominiums, a development that would create an economic “dead space,” according to Louisette Kidd, the city’s planning director.
“Right now, the (city’s development code) doesn’t prevent ground-floor residential,” Kidd said Wednesday night.
Imposing the moratorium would give city officials time to review the zoning regulations for the area and to hold public meetings about them — a process Kidd said she hoped could be started in the spring and completed by the end of next year.
But Denny Perschall, who owns the piece of land that city officials feared would be used for residential development, said he has no plans to put residential units on the former site of the Acadian Millworks business. In fact, he said, he is in discussions with a limousine company to rent the building.
“I am not going to do anything on my piece that is going to harm the city,” Perschall said Wednesday. “I am not going to go and put a bunch of cheap apartments on my property.”
Thursday night, Mayor Pro-Tem Rick Danielson cited Perschall’s statement as a reason there was no need to pass the moratorium, and the council voted unanimously to kill it.
Even though Perschall was glad the council rejected the moratorium, he said he planned to sit down with Mayor Donald Villere early next year to discuss plans for the properties around the Trailhead.
“The idea is to get this thing going,” he said. “We do need to get rid of some of these penny-ante zoning regulations that are putting a stop to these things.”
Specifically, Perschall cited a regulation that stipulates that the minimum lot size in the area around the Trailhead is 3,000 square feet.
That minimum has stopped Waller from building more condos along the Trailhead, a fact that has prompted him to sue the city.
Waller and Villere are longtime foes, and Perschall said the fighting between the two is making progress more difficult.
Tess Denny, who represents two clients who have property on the Trailhead, said they are frustrated as well. “They just want to see some progress in the Trailhead,” she said.
Kidd — another frequent target of Waller’s ire — conceded that some of the regulations need to be reconsidered, and she said she is “willing to listen and tweak it a little bit more.”
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.