Wal-Mart battling on fence

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 28, 2001


HAHNVILLE – The St. Charles Parish Zoning Board of Adjustments revoked Wal-Mart’s zoning compliance certificate, putting the future of the recently-opened Boutte store in jeopardy. At issue is a 6-foot fence separating the Wal-Mart site from the Primrose Estates subdivision, now under development. “The same people developing Primrose sold the property to Wal-Mart,” said Planning Director Bob Lambert, “So who set up this situation in the first place?” According to the Primrose Estates Homeowners Association, Lambert set up the situation by allowing Wal-Mart to erect a 6-foot fence without accounting for the 2 feet of lot fill used by the subdivision. That makes the fence, in essence, a 4-foot fence on the lots’ side. Along the Wal-Mart border with one side of Coronado Park, on the other hand, an 8-foot fence was built by Wal-Mart as requested by the homeowners there. In testimony before the ZBA, the homeowners association stated the fence, as it is built at two different heights, does not provide the type of buffer between residential and commercial uses. Instead, Lambert should have required that Wal-Mart construct its fence 6 feet above the highest grade of the contiguous lots in Primrose Estates, members said. Lambert issued a final certificate of zoning compliance to Wal-Mart on Jan. 17, and the store opened shortly thereafter. A lawsuit was filed by the homeowners association about the same time, but it was too late to block issuance of the certificate. The homeowners then took their concern to the ZBA, which heard the matter March 15. In a 6-1 vote the seven-member ZBA sided with the homeowners. However, the padlocks aren’t ready yet for Wal-Mart. Lambert said he has a certain amount of discretion as to how promptly he must enforce that order, and he fully anticipates Wal-Mart to file suit in district court. The letter to Wal-Mart asks only that the business come into compliance within 10 days. Voting to revoke the certificate were Larry August of Hahnville, Judy Rodriguez of Luling, Bruce Ehrman of St. Rose, Eric Matherne of Des Allemands, Allen Braud of Luling and Ziggy Sobolewski of Destrehan. Voting against the revocation was Sean Moore of New Sarpy. A certified letter was issued to Wal-Mart Friday and anticipated to be received this week. The letter stated, in part, “The ZBA has found that the planning director erred in issuing the Final Certificate of Zoning Compliance, as the improvements do not comply with all of the requirements of the zoning ordinance.” Lambert noted the subdivision ordinances require that a house slab meet the base flood elevation and that a lot need not meet the base flood elevation. Therefore, he said, the 2 feet of fill on the lots, which made the 6-foot fence a 4-foot fence, was not necessary to meet the lot requirements but created the problem with Wal-Mart. On the other hand, the fence as it stands is intended to provide some measure of privacy for adjoining homeowners, something a 4-foot fence does not do. This is the first time the parish’s Zoning Board of Adjustment has revoked a final certificate of zoning compliance, Lambert said. If Wal-Mart does lose its case and close its doors the impact on the parish would be devastating, Lambert said. The store already does $1.2 million gross receipts per week and is expected to provide $700,000 in sales tax to the parish for roads and drainage alone. Add to that the chilling effect on the parish’s economic development program, and the closing of Wal-Mart would have long-term, far-reaching effects, Lambert asserted. Lambert stated if called upon to do so he will enforce the ZBA’s decision. However, he added, “The ZBA can change my decision, but they cannot change my mind.”