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 Lafayette superintendent insists the budget is illegal and vows to fight on.
"I am not a scientist," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said numerous times, a response that other members of his party have parroted.
Republicans are running strong races against endangered Democratic incumbents in states such as North Carolina, Colorado, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alaska. Republicans are also looking to replace retiring Democrats in Iowa and West Virginia with a GOP lawmaker.
Republican congressman Vance McAllister is trying to make up to Louisiana voters for getting too close to a married former employee.
You may not like all of “it,” but U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, unlike many of her colleagues, isn't sitting around twiddling her thumbs in Congress.
Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro says he "can't wait" to play against Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The heat keeps rising for Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal as a new slate of corruption allegations surfaced this week.
If opposing defenses sell out to stop the Packers' passing game, they risk being gashed by powerful running back Eddie Lacy, a New Orleans-area native.
At the horn the officiating crew trotted to the tunnel and left security personnel to clean up after them.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Sign "ninjas" cleaning up clutter; NYC doctor positive for Ebola; Ferguson grand jury decision nears; and more national and international news for Friday, October 24, 2014.
We can safely assume incumbent Chief K.P. Gibson isn’t too worried about this challenger.
Nationally, Republicans must gain six seats to win Senate control. The most competitive races, many in states where Obama lost in 2012, remain too close to call.
The Baton Rouge Republican has repeatedly battled a perception within his own party that he perhaps wasn't the best choice to carry the GOP banner.
Even if Jimmy Graham's production dips while the star tight end recovers from a shoulder injury, it looks like Drew Brees won't have much trouble finding other targets.
A former campaign manager for Senate candidate Rob Maness is striking at the Republican contender's tea party support, saying Maness only sought to appeal to conservative organizations because he needed money for his campaign.
Ninety-two percent of public school teachers were rated either effective or highly effective in a report the state issued marking the second year of a new statewide evaluation process.
School board members Mark Babineaux, Hunter Beasley and Tehmi Chassion can vote to fire Cooper — because we all know that’s exactly what they’ll do.
District 2 school board candidate Simon Mahan is hoping to unseat first-term incumbent and former Carencro Mayor Tommy Angelle in the Nov. 4 election.
District Attorney Mike Harson is showing his desperation by falsely attributing quotes to his opponent and blocking journalists from his social media.
The governor is traveling the country laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but his approval ratings at home hover well below 50 percent.
State District Judge Bob Downing extended the order and delayed a planned Wednesday hearing about a permanent injunction while negotiations continue between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the waste disposal site operator.
New Louisiana higher education commissioner Joseph Rallo will be paid more than his predecessor.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had four rushing touchdowns, and Louisiana-Lafayette rolled to 419 yards on the ground in a 55-40 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the validators-in-chief for Democrats struggling through a bleak campaign season in states where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular.