Council votes down Elvina Plantation rezoning

Published 12:02 am Saturday, July 16, 2022

LAPLACE — A proposal that has splintered residents along Old U.S. Highway 51 for more than a year was voted down by St. John Parish Council this past Tuesday night.

Residents filled Rudolph Sorapuru Chambers in Edgard on Tuesday night to have their voices heard regarding an ordinance that would have allowed the rezoning of land on the Elvina Plantation in Laplace from R-1 to the Rural Zoning District, permitting allowing a dirt pit to be dug. Property owners were hoping to sell the spoil to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for construction of the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Project that spans St. John, St. Charles and St. James parishes.

The proposed ordinance had been narrowly approved 4-3 during a Planning Commission meeting on June 27.

The council had previously tabled the proposal.

Property owner Dr. Christy Montegut was hoping to rezone 162 acres of the 700-plus acre plot. Montegut said the land has never been used as residential and added it has flooded three times in recent years.

He said the land is subject to flooding because some of the area is below sea level and the average elevation is about four to five feet above sea level.

“It would be very expensive for a residential development (to be constructed),” he said.

Another resident passionately pleaded with council members, urging them not to allow “one percent of the parish” dictate policy for the entire parish. He said the parish is made up of more than the neighboring River Forest and Old Highway 51 neighborhoods.

“I understand they might not want it, but what’s best for the whole parish?” he said. “If the clay (can be used) to build the levee, why not?”

But others were vehement in their opposition, insisting the property should be kept residential. Several residents expressed concern that once an area loses its R-1 status, it’s difficult to have it reinstated, and it also opens the way for similar rezoning requests.

Recently, two requests similar to Montegut’s have been filed with the Planning Commission, alarming some.

“That’s the only protection we have as residents,” one man said. “Once you open that door you can’t tell anybody no. It gets nothing but worse.”

One woman mentioned the beauty of Laplace and asked why council members would want to change the landscape so that a “mile-and-a-half” of dirt rather than the area’s natural appeal would be the parish’s welcome mat.

She noted that no developer will build a residential neighborhood next to an industrial development. She pointed out that Laplace is ideally situated in its proximity to Louis Armstrong International airport, and will also soon have a major protection levee.

Another resident said allowing for dirt pits to be built would stifle economic development in the area, an area that has shown signs of growth.

One nearby resident explained that if the change was allowed, the parish would initially reap some tax benefits but none long term. He said he is not against development of the land but would like to see more concrete plans than a proposed retention pond.

The proposal was defeated 6-3, with Michael Wright, Kurt Becnel, Tom Malik, Warren Torres, Tammy Houston and Lennix Madere in opposition.