Monday, July 31, 2006

We Have a Plan!

At their meeting today, Monday the 31st of July, the Planning and Zoning Commission gave formal approval to LINC neighborhood Plan No. 7. This neighborhood plan is the first to get final approval and covers the Freetown neighborhood. Had this plan been in place several months ago, it would have been much more difficult for Capstone to get approval for their development. Of course, given the highly dubious relationship these developers have 'cultivated' (i.e. bought) from City Council members, it is quite likely that they still would have ignored the wishes of Freetown residents.

Although there is a sense in which the approval of the neighborhood plan is shutting the gate after the horse has bolted, it does provide the area with a defense mechanism against future speculative traversties. Recent 'antics' at neighborhood meetings by Fredrick and Broussard and their lackeys suggest that these bloated real estate types still have designs to further ruin Freetown to enrich themselves further. Now though the standards they will have to meet (and consequently the bribes that will have to be paid) are going to be much steeper. Better yet, this plan approval is not something that the City-Parish Councilors can overturn. So, residents have another tool with which they can defend themselves from their councilmen. This is good news.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Meeting July 26

The next Freetown Neighborhood Organization meeting has been scheduled by Mike Hollier's office for Wednesday, July 26, 2006 at C. J. Angelle Hall at 6:00 P.M. This is the building where the June 15 meeting took place. It is located at the corner of Jefferson and Taft Streets.

Although Hollier's office will send out letters of notice to all the addresses they have and place the notice in the newspaper, please be in touch with as many of your Freetown contacts as possible, notifying them of the upcoming meeting date, time and location. This meeting is billed as a Hearing and is designed to explain the organization of The Coterie, which will initially coordinate the plan for the neighborhood.

There will be a follow up meeting to elect The Coterie. The Coterie will develop the co-coordinating plan which will include the appointment of an advisory resource group, as well as the election of a board of directors which will oversee the business of the neighborhood organization.

As you can see, we're on the move! Once again, please come to the meeting, and ask your neighbors to be active participants. If you have questions or comments about the meeting, please contact Mike Hollier, Planning Manager for the City of Lafayette, at 291-8016.

Monday, July 10, 2006

"It Doesn't Matter."

"It doesn't matter", is what Steve Oats, lawyer for Capstone Development, said this evening, after the Planning and Zoning Commission denied permission for the proposed Capstone II development in Freetown. Two people in the audience clearly heard this remark. What Oats meant by this is for anyone to guess. However, it is likely not anything as honorable as would have been said by the famous Captain Oats, of the Scott Antarctic expedition. A likely interpretation is that Capstone believes that it has the City Parish Council 'in the bag', so the recommendations of the Planning and Zoning Commission are ultimately irrelevant.

The meeting today was quite predictable. The developers made their pitch. The real estate speculators, who stand to make a fortune on the Capstone deal, opined pompously on their interpretation of property owners rights (including a ridiculous invocation of the U.S. Constitution). Perhaps more interesting was the presentation by Glenn Armentor who actually attempted to deal with some of the objections that residents have raised. However, his presentation was spoiled by some factual errors.

Although there were only a few Freetown residents who spoke, they pointed out the errors in the presentations of the Capstone fans. This included an explanation of why the 'property owner's rights' arguments rested upon a logical confusion (this is explained in the posting 'So-Called Reasoning', below). It was clear that Capstone II is as unwelcome in Freetown as Capstone I, though.

The Planning and Zoning Commissioners asked many deep and penetrating questions, especially of the Capstone and their supporters. Fred Prejean had Capstone's Kent Campbell positively squirming when he asked him how far they would be prepared to go to support residents. Campbell was in a bind, as he had tried to portray Capstone as actually being friendly to the residents, without actually offering any concrete promises. This was pretty funny. The most interesting series of questions though were the ones that concerned the secret meeting at which the $200,000 'Impact Fee' from Capstone had been negotiated. Glenn Armentor admitted to being present, along with a Mr. Edwards representing Capstone. Councilor Bruce Conque also volunteered that he had been present too. When Armentor was asked who else had been there, he felt unable to supply any further information, on the grounds that he had not been given permission to do so. What was finally admitted however, was that there were no actual residents of the Freetown neighborhood present at this meeting. Isn't there something very ironic here? The terms and conditions of the initial Capstone development were negotiated behind closed doors, by a developer, an attorney and a Councilman, none of whom actually currently live in Freetown, plus persons unknown, while residents were excluded. Draw your own conclusions.

When it came time for the Commissioners to vote, there was a little bit of confusion, due to the wording of the motion, but this was rapidly sorted out. Initially, it appeared that Capstone had prevailed, but once the confusion was resolved, they had lost. This was the context in which Mr. Oats made his remark.

So now the whole circus will almost certainly return to the City Parish Council. If Mr. Oats and his friends are correct, then after much pantomime, the Council will vote for the developers. It is clear that the Planning and Zoning Commission have read the relevant law concerning the role of the Commission (La. R.S. 33:101, passim). The Commission has also demonstrated courage and concern for the residents of Freetown. Thus far, the City Parish Council has shown no such understanding of the State statues, nor concern for the wishes of residents, nor any spine. Thus, the question is, will any Council members (other than the three previous dissenting votes) show spine and listen to the people of Lafayette, or will they instead be swayed by whatever they were promised at their private meetings with Capstone? This is a simple case of out of State developers and their real estate agent friends, verses the all the other residents of Lafayette. How the councilors vote will tell the people of Lafayette what their local representatives really stand for and where they place their priorities.

Capstone II, Meeting Today

Today, the Planning and Zoning Commission will meet at 5 p.m. in Building B of the Clifton Chernier Center at 220 W. Willow St. On the agenda of the meeting is a further proposal from the Capstone company to build yet more student apartments in Freetown. The site of this further development is land that is now the trailer park on the corner of Lamar and Stewart Streets.

No doubt the meeting will be attended by the usual sorry collection of plump, white greedy real estate types, attempting to argue that the development should go ahead, in the face of all logic and reason. They will probably claim that the development will be good for Lafayette, confusing the state of their own pocket books with the well being of the City as a whole.

It is for this reason that it is crucially important that as many people as possible make it out to the meeting and express their opposition to the Capstone proposal. Indeed, if this proposed expansion goes ahead, people living in Freetown will be thrown from their homes, so that Capstone can grab their 'Go Zone' Federal subsidy, to build apartments that are not needed.

Please make every effort to attend.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

More Secret Capstone Meetings Planned

Attorneys representing Capstone Development, the people who want to turn Freetown into a student ghetto, are making calls inviting Planning and Zoning Commissioners to secret meetings. This appears to be in anticipation of the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting scheduled for Monday the 10th of July. At this meeting the Planning and Zoning Commission will consider a request for Capstone II. This is a further development of 70 units that they propose to site in an area now occupied by a trailer park at the corner of Lamar and Stewart Streets. This development is in addition to the 142 unit proposal, that was approved, under suspicious circumstances by Lafayette City Parish Council on the 27th of June.

All the objections that applied to the first Capstone proposal will also apply to this second one. However, it is curious that Capstone should continue this strategy of secret meetings, given that it has got them in hot water in the past.

In a bizarre legal case reported by the 11th circuit Court of Appeals (the .pdf is available here), Capstone and one of their contractors sued each other. The story is quite complicated, but the bottom line of it is that the parties initially had an arbitration which was then confirmed in court. Later this arbitration was challenged. The basis of this challenge was that there had been some meetings that the Court ruled problematic between officials from Capstone and one of the official arbitrators. These meetings were sufficient for the Court of Appeal to order that the arbitration award be vacated and the case be remanded for further proceedings.

Despite the problems that secret meetings have caused in the past, it seems that this is the preferred method of operation by Capstone. What is it that they have to hide?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

So-Called 'Reasoning'

Today, this country celebrates independence. Yet, one week ago today, the historic Freetown neighborhood was sold out to developers by a few members of Lafayette City Parish Council. In the intervening week, through many discussions, telephone conversations and e-mails, a rough sketch of the 'reasoning' that lay behind this sell out has come to light. These will be amplified here.

One thing which helped confuse members of the Council was a report from a prominent citizen that he had chatted with neighbors of the Capstone property in Baton Rouge and heard no complaints from them. This report was, at the very least misleading, as the Baton Rouge property is surrounded by trees on three sides, as can be seen from the image here. Moreover, these anecdotal reports are contradicted by first hand reports of the tenants, available here. This distraction notwithstanding, there appear to have been other errors of judgment by some of our Councilmen.

Early on in the fatal Lafayette City Parish Council meeting Louis Benjamin, the Councilor for the area where the proposed construction is sited, suggested that the appeal by the developers be halted until residents had the opportunity to request that the land be rezoned as something other than I-1, light industrial. This could have been done, perfectly legally, under La. R.S. 33:113. No other Councilor supported Benjamin's proposal, so it failed. However, it appears that the I-1 zoning featured largely in the so-called reasoning of the Councilors who had become catamites to the developers.

According to received reports, the catamites voted for the developers, in order to prevent more problematic construction in the area. It is true that I-1 zoning would permit all sorts of industrial horrors, that would clearly not be good for the area. However, any such future proposal would also have to pass through the Planning and Zoning Commission, at which residents could have expressed objections. So, the threat of some entirely theoretical, potential future problem was used to justify approving the current nightmare. This clearly is not smart and is also clearly not the much vaunted 'smart growth'.

A more improbable bit of dumb reasoning from the Councilmen catamites concerns the fact that the developers appear to have satisfied all the conditions for construction under an area zoned I-1. They seem to believe that being able to read and follow the rules entitles a corporation to engage in destructive and speculative property development, to the detriment of a historic neighborhood. The fact that the duty of checking the facts on these issues lies with Planning and Zoning staff, seems to have not caught their attention. This oversight also suggests that the Capstone fans see no real apparent role for the Planning and Zoning Commission. However, the men who sold out Freetown believe that they can justify their action on this basis. This is sad. What makes the situation truly culpable is that this error was brought to the attention of the councilmen in a written submission, that was included in their information packet. The submission said,

"One line of argument that Capstone might attempt to advance is that, given that they are in compliance with all the relevant statutes and ordinances, their project should be allowed to proceed. Such a line of argument rests upon a simple logical confusion between necessary and sufficient conditions. A condition is necessary if it must be satisfied for a particular result to arise. For instance, it is a necessary condition of holding a Bachelor's degree that an individual attends a university or college. This though is not a sufficient condition, as the individual must also pass their classes, etc. in order to get a Bachelor's degree....If Capstone claims that satisfying all the statutes and ordinances should allow their project to proceed, then they are like the student who argues that they should be given a Bachelor's degree, because they were admitted to a college, or university. Clearly, this is a logical error."

Now, it seems that our Councilmen wish to appeal to precisely this logical error to justify their actions! This is arrogant, culpable and unforgivable. They should know that this is a mistake. Maybe, they were too busy having secret meetings to actually read the materials provided to them? Perhaps, they are not bright enough to follow this reasoning? Who knows. It still stinks.

So, this was some of the so-called 'reasoning' that our civic leaders used to sell out the residents of Freetown. Did they reason so badly because of lack of rational capacity, or were they dazzled by the slick words of the developers and their lackeys? We will probably never know the answer on this. However, it should be obvious that the men who sold Freetown should not be trusted with future important choices about the future of our community, nor should they be trusted in any other important political role, at any time in the future.