Then Camellia Green ' proposed by local attorney Hank Perret and the Perret Foundation ' emerged as an even better alternative. The idea was to create an idyllic park setting along Camellia with an elaborate landscape project including an arboretum, earth berms and ornamental segments of brick wall. Original designs funded by the Perret Foundation included a bell tower to commemorate cancer victims and a bike path that would wind through the memorial park leading up to a canoe launch on the river. Not only would Camellia Green provide area residents with the sound abatement and buffer they sought from Camellia Boulevard, but the project would also provide natural drainage and help filter storm water into the Vermilion River. If that wasn't enough, the LSU landscape architect that designed Camellia Green, Buck Abbey, assured Lafayette Consolidated Government that an $800,000 state and federal grant could cover half the cost of the project.
Three years later, Camellia Green remains stuck on the drawing board. Grant money supposedly available for the project has been both delayed and drastically reduced, and Abbey is no longer on the job. And at a recent meeting with area residents, LCG President Joey Durel even suggested that his friend and River Ranch developer Robert Daigle could redevelop residential homes or condominiums on that land.
Dee Stanley, LCG chief administrative officer, says the city is now moving ahead with plans to construct a wall for residents and hopes to begin construction on the 90-day project sometime in July. The 6-foot wooden fence with brick columns will run along residents' property lines, rather than directly flanking Camellia Boulevard as a traditional sound wall would. LCG officials admit the fence will serve more of a privacy function for residents than actual sound abatement. Spanning 4,700 feet from Eastland Street to where land begins sloping down to meet the Vermilion River, the fence will not be continuous because some residents have opted not to have it along the back of their property. For those residents, LCG will instead spend an amount equivalent to the fencing costs on landscaping projects hedging their back yards.
The deal was reached at a meeting held almost a month ago with some 30 residents who live along the area. At that meeting, Durel also floated a controversial idea suggested to him by River Ranch developer Robert Daigle. Durel says Daigle and River Ranch architect Steve Oubre had previously discussed the development potential of the Camellia green belt area.
"It was brought to me just as an idea," says Durel. "It was suggested as something that could be done in a nice way with a sound wall and a bike path, and it'd be something where the city could reap a couple of million dollars off the deal."
Daigle did not return a call for comment.
Durel says some type of development in that area was something that was always a possibility in his view, provided the residents were open to it.
"I'm one of those people who believe you put everything on the table," he says.
According to Ralph Young, a longtime resident of Camellia Drive who was at the meeting, reaction to Durel's proposal was far from enthusiastic. "He threw [the idea] out to the group, and everyone stood up," Young recalls. "It was not a popular move. It met with immediate opposition."
Rob Stevenson, the district's councilman who was also in attendance, described residents' reaction as "ugly," and says he had predicted as much. Prior to the meeting, Durel asked Stevenson if it would be all right to broach the idea to residents. "I said he could mention it as long as he told everyone that I had nothing to do with the idea," Stevenson recalls.
Young says several people were offended since many of their neighbors had lost their homes to the city due to Camellia's expansion. The city, under the previous administration, had also promised the land would not be re-developed.
Further inflaming the issue was perception of the city-parish president's cozy relationship with Daigle, whom he's known since high school. Earlier this year, Durel and River Ranch reached a deal in which the development constructed a private road leading up to Durel's home on Steiner Road. Durel insisted he was responsible for all costs for the road, which would be re-imbursed to River Ranch as part of a lucrative property sale between the two parties. Durel owns two acres of land adjacent to River Ranch along the Vermilion River that he plans to sell to Daigle. Earlier this year, Durel got the state ethics board to review both the land sale and the road deal. The board cleared Durel of any conflicts of interest.
Reflecting on his meeting with Camellia area residents, Durel says he never intended for a potential development to be any type of exclusive deal with River Ranch, and he noted at the meeting the city would have to follow all bid laws.
"I shouldn't have ever mentioned any names," Durel says. "Because [Daigle and Oubre] were just people who were thinking about ideas that may benefit the city. It was just two guys talking. Just the mention of River Ranch makes the hairs on the back of some people's necks stand up."
To Durel's credit, Young says that while the mayor did suggest development along the existing Camellia green belt, he didn't push the issue.
All parties now agree the issue is dead. "I think it was basically they don't trust government," says Durel. "They like saying that they didn't like losing the residences because it provided a lot of buffer for them, but I think they like living next to all that green space. A lot of people would pay a lot of money to live next to something like that."
As for Camellia Green, Stanley insists that idea is not being abandoned. However, LCG will be spending the $700,000 it had hoped to use as a local match for its Camellia Green grant on the new fence project. The grant itself remains in limbo.
Containing both federal Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Quality funds, Stanley says the grant has been held up since 2004 due to myriad state and federal program cuts and funding delays. When and if the grant ever does come through, it stands to be a greatly reduced amount. Stanley acknowledges that the Camellia Green plans will likely have to be scaled down to reflect the new funding realities. "We need to kind of go back to square one in that regard," he says. "Camellia Green can still take shape in between the fencing and the street, but it's going to have to be phased in within the limitations of the grant."
Hank Perret, who initially brought the Camellia Green project forward after being inspired by cancer memorial parks in other cities, says he's hopeful the idea can still take root.
"We certainly hope that in time the city will have the opportunity to implement the green space plan that was envisioned," he says. "We think that's what's best for the community."
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
US cities bidding on Olympics; Guard prevents more Ferguson riots; storm threatens travel and more national and international news for Wednesday, November 26, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.
By now, the story of how longtime LSU coach Dale Brown discovered Shaquille O'Neal has been told many times: Brown happened upon a massive 13-year-old at an army base in Germany, stayed in touch with him and eventually became like a second father.
Fate simply wasn't ready to give the New Orleans Saints a break from longtime nemesis Steve Smith.
Lafayette Police have had a busy day.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will use $130 million in patchwork financing from a tax amnesty program, insurance settlement, uninsured motorist penalties and other excess funds to close most of the state's midyear budget deficit.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with President Barack Obama's actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn't worsen her campaign difficulties.
Gay-rights advocates challenging Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban announced Thursday that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case before it is heard by a federal appeals court.
Thinking himself the “son of God,” the man charged with the 2013 killing of an officer of the Chitimacha Tribal Police will not stand trial following a ruling Thursday on his mental competency.
Either Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't want to tip Baltimore off as to who'll start in New Orleans' secondary on Monday night, or he really doesn't know yet.