Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Price of Lafayette History? $200,000, According to the City-Parish Council!

At the City-Parish Council meeting this evening, the Council reversed a unanimous decision by the Planning and Zoning Commission. The Council approved a proposal by Crapstone Development to build the 400 bedroom student apartment complex in the historic Freetown neighborhood. The 'sweetener' to the deal? The company will put up $200,000 to be spent at the discretion of a committee made up of two Freetown 'resident property owners' and one person designated by the developer. The money will be spent on neighborhood improvements, "consistent with the cultural and historical nature and significance" of the area. If there are 400 bedrooms in the development and they each rent for an average of $500 per month, then $200,000 is exactly equivalent one months rental revenue for the developers. Assuming that Freetown has roughly 800 residents, this means that their history and peace has been sold out for an approximate price of $250 per head. What a deal for the neighborhood (NOT).

Many people spoke at the meeting. Most people in favor of the developer were white, male real estate agents and property speculators. The fact that more people (from more diverse backgrounds) spoke against the proposal and gained very loud applause, did not impress many of the Councilmen.

After hours of comments, Bruce Conque delivered a rambling summing up, describing his childhood on Vermilion Street, but bizarrely concluding by supporting the developers. Then Chris Williams proposed a motion in favor of the developers proposal, with the amendment that the developers should adhere to the revisions that were recommended by the Planning and Zoning Commission Staff and containing the $200,000 bribe to the neighborhood.

When it came to the vote, councilors Badeaux, Benjamin and Stevenson voted against the motion. All the other councilors voted in favor, making the appeal successful by a 6 to 3 vote. Thus was Lafayette's history squandered. Of course, there are a few less public details to the story. These will be outlined here. None of these presented facts have been verified, but are believed to be fully accurate, according to the whispering in the hallways. Readers should feel free to verify the facts for themselves, or post comments with corrections.

It appears that in the very recent past there was a meeting between the developers and Bruce Conque. It is unclear who else was present, but it seems likely that Glenn Armentor, a lawyer who initially was against the proposed development, was also there. It seems that it was at this meeting that some minor architectural changes were made to the development and it was at this meeting that the $200,000 bribe was arranged. Thus, Armentor's role in this travesty is equivocal. What is amazing is that when concerned residents contacted Conque, his response was to have a council employee return their calls with the message that Mr. Conque would make his decision after hearing both sides at the council meeting. It may be infered from this that out of town developers are more worthy of Mr. Conque's attention than Lafayette residents. So much for representative democracy.

Chris Williams also admitted that he met privately with the developers. In addition, Mr. Williams claimed to have e-mailed various 'people in the area'. No doubt one of these people was Coach@state.la.us. However, there are also a number of instances in which Williams failed to return phone messages from concerned residents. One of the Crapstone supporters claimed that he had met 'with residents'. Nobody seems to know who these mystery 'residents' are. In all likelihood, the only person the developers really met with was the equivocal Mr. Armentor. However, he is not a resident of Freetown, living instead on West Bayou Parkway, although his law office is located in the neighborhood. Thus, through various closed door meetings and private lobbying sessions (what about Sunshine laws?), Crapstone managed to sway at least two councilmen. Residents of the area (other than the mystery ones) were not invited to these meetings. They did not even get their messages returned! There may have been other meetings, but no details, or even rumors, are known on these currently. Probably the only concrete evidence will come from closely looking at campaign contributions for the councilors who agreed to sell the history of the City of Lafayette for so little.

Three councilors, Stevenson, Benjamin and Badeaux can hold their heads high. They did the right thing. The other six, should hang their heads in shame. One even admitted to not having read all the materials submitted to them, until during the meeting itself! Clearly, the Planning and Zoning Commission listens to the residents of Lafayette, whilst the larger City-Parish Coucil does not. This is a depressing conclusion.

The really disturbing part about all this comes from the fact that residents of Freetown, and surrounding areas have just voted on a neighborhood plan, as part of the Lafayette into the New century (LINC) proposal. Exit polls suggest that this plan will be approved with 10 to 1 residents voting in favor of the plan. The key to the neighborhood plan was to be a park, located where Crapstone will now build student slums. Every single council region has at least one neighborhood plan in the works (some regions have several). The Freetown area, Region 7, was the first to be considered and voted on by residents. Yet it appears that six of our elected city officials care not a fig, for the opinions of the residents. Please remember this when it comes time to vote [them out of office].

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Council Meeting Tuesday

As has been mentioned before, the crucial Council meeting will be on Tuesday the 27th of June at 5.30 pm. There the appeal by Capstone Development of the Planning and Zoning Commissions rejection of their proposal will be considered. Flyers about the meeting have been delivered to every home in Freetown. Hopefully, a large number of people will attend the meeting to show their opposition to the proposed development.

Not everybody will be familiar with how Council meetings work. In order to have an opportunity to speak, it is necessary to fill out a speaker card. This is crucial. If one has the opportunity of addressing the Council, it is important to know that one only has 3 mins. in which to make one's points. Although it is possible that time can be extended, do not bank upon this happening. For this reason, it is very important to have figured out what one wishes to say in advance. In fact, it is even a good idea to practice to ensure the points can be made effectively within the time limit.

Another point to keep in mind is that it can get boring if the same point is made over and over again. If you wish to speak on say, three topics and by the time your turn comes two of the topics have already been covered, then just address your remaining topic. Doing this will enable the largest number of people to speak. It will also prevent the meeting going on too long. Being able to present a case against the proposed development is important. However, also presenting that case in a disciplined manner also matters.

It is also important to be respectful to the Council members and even the developers. This is an obvious point, but if people get overly passionate on a topic, it can be overlooked. A well reasoned coherent case made to the Council is always going to be more effective than a lot of people yelling.

Hopefully, if everyone keeps these points in mind, we will be able to persuade the Council to uphold the decision of the Planning and Zoning Commission. If this can be achieved, then the threat from Capstone Development and their tax relief fuelled dreams of student slums in Freetown can be fought off once and for all.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Time to Lobby

One week from today that appeal of the Planning and Zoning Commission decision on the Capstone student apartment development will be heard by Lafayette City-Parish Council. Everyone is encouraged to attend the meeting, which will be held at 5.30 pm at 705 W. University Ave., Lafayette, LA, 70506. It is also crucially important that the residents of Lafayette let the members of the Council know their views on the development. For this reason, everyone is encouraged to call, write, or e-mail their own Council Member, as well as other Council Members.

If you are unsure who your own Council Member is, you can find out using a tool available here (requires JavaScript).

District 1, Council Member Bobby Badeaux, Tel: 291-8801, E-mail: district1@lafayettegov.com
District 2, Council Member Dale Bourgeois, Tel: 291-8802, E-mail:district2@lafayettegov.com
District 3, Council Member Chris Williams, Tel: 291-8803, E-mail:chriswilliams06@yahoo.com
District 4, Council Member Louis Benjamin, Tel: 291-8804, E-mail: district4@lafayettegov.com
District 5, Council Member Lenwood Broussard, Tel: 291-8805, E-mail: district5@lafayettegov.com
District 6, Council Member Bruce Conque, Tel: 291-8806, E-mail: district6@lafayettegov.com
District 7, Council Member Marc F. Mouton, Tel: 291-8807, E-mail: district7@lafayettegov.com
District 8, Council Member Rob Stevenson, Tel: 291-8808, E-mail: district8@lafayettegov.com
District 9, Council Member Randy Menard, Tel: 291-8809, E-mail, district9@lafayettegov.com

Councillors can be also be contacted by U.S. Mail at P.O. Box 4017-C, Lafayette, LA, 70502.

Please contact as many Council Members as you can and let them know that you oppose the development in the historic Freetown neighborhood.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Neighborhood No. 7 - Why Voting Matters

On Thursday the 15th of June a meeting was held to consider the neighborhood plan for the LINC Neighborhood No. 7 Plan. This region is bounded by University Ave, Johnston St., Garfield St. (by the railroad tracks) and Pinhook Rd. All residents in this area are eligible to vote on the Neighborhood Plan.

Although the meeting was well attended, there were fewer people there than are eligible to vote on the proposed Plan. It is vital that as many eligible households as possible vote, so that the will of the people is known. People who missed the meeting can cast their ballots at the Planning Office, at the Rosa Parks Transportation Center.

One reason this ballot is crucial is that the adoption of a neighborhood plan provides a crucial tool to guide the Planning and Zoning Commission, when they consider applications for development in the area. For instance, had the plan been in place, it would have been much harder for Capstone Development to propose their students apartment blocks.

It is important to realize that voting in favor of the plan merely has the effect of telling the City that you favor having a plan. The current plan is not set in stone. It is merely a set of ideas that can be subject to change and amendment. If the plan is approved, then a whole set of administrative structures, including a 'Coterie' will be created to implement and advise upon the details of the plan. The Coterie is an elected body, made up of property owners and residents in the area. Thus, even if one has issues with certain aspects of the plan, these concerns can be addressed by raising these issues with the Coterie.

Without a plan, the area is likely to continually fall prey to out of State property speculators, like Capstone. With the plan, these threats can be neutralized. Thus, for the future of the region, it is important that residents cast their votes. Please do so.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Capstone and Facts

Today June 8th, KATC TV-3 gave the issue of the proposed development of student apartments in Freetown some coverage. The story is available here (you will need to have JavaScript enabled to see the story). When interviewed for the story, Kent Campbell, Executive Vice President of Capstone Development said, "This will be the first development in decades that is on the campus edge - students can walk to campus". It appears that Capstone has not heard about the Legacy Park apartments, that are owned and operated by UL. They also seem to have unrealistic views about student behavior -- students who live in Freetown currently, do not 'walk to campus' (see the discussion of the traffic issue, below). Of course, this is the same gentleman who (totally implausibly) claimed that Capstone had spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars" on plans for the proposed project, at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting at which their application was unanimously denied. If Capstone executives are prepared to be 'economical with the truth' on such simple matters, what are we to make of their claims that their development will be 'upscale' and 'beneficial to the neighborhood'?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

More Freetown Development Proposed

Another proposal for major development in Freetown has been delivered to the Planning and Zoning Commission. It appears that Capstone Development of Birmingham, AL are determined to inflict student residences on Freetown. The latest proposal, for so-called 'Capstone Phase II', is for a 70 unit student housing complex to be built on Stewart Street, at the site that is currently occupied by the trailer park. This will be considered by the Planning and Zoning Commission at their July meeting. This is scheduled for July 10th, 2006. It appears that Capstone have learned nothing from their previous proposal being unanimously declined by the Commission. They are hell-bent on getting their hands on the money that is available in the Lafayette 'Go-Zone'. As with their previous application, this development would have detrimental effects upon the neighborhood (see below) and it should be resisted strenuously.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Neighborhood Meeting

There will be a neighborhood meeting on Thursday the 15th of June at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at the C.J. Angelle Hall, which is on the corner of Jefferson and Taft Streets. The purpose of this meeting is to consider and vote on the Neighborhood Plan for Freetown and surrounding neighborhoods. It is important that as many households as possible are represented at this meeting. The adoption of the neighborhood plan is an important step in preventing speculative development, like the one proposed by Capstone Development, in Freetown.