Now a Birmingham, Ala.-based company, Capstone Development Corp., hopes to build six apartment buildings for university students in the southeast corner of Freetown, on three parcels along the curve of Garfield Street. The mix of two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments would add up to 564 beds.
The prospect that 600 college students could be their new neighbors elicited a swift and negative response from area residents, who've trotted out scenarios of drunken fraternity parties and increased traffic. That response was on display Saturday and at a packed and spirited neighborhood meeting last Thursday.
"Things have gotten a lot better here," says homeowner Paul Potter. "I came in 2000, and I'll never move again. I don't want them to put those apartments down here and spoil the neighborhood. I think it's going to be more trouble than it's worth."
Disputes between developers and residents are hardly new in Lafayette, but this time the stakes are especially high. Lafayette Consolidated Government Planning Manager Mike Hollier says it's a historic test case for the area, because Capstone Development Corp.'s proposal arrives as the Freetown district is poised to adopt its own neighborhood plan. It's also the first time a local neighborhood has vigorously asserted its historic background and character as grounds for rejecting a new development. In both instances, the Freetown conflict will set a precedent for how Lafayette balances the values and aspirations of a neighborhood community against the rights of an individual property owner.
The controversy is also happening at a critical time, as an unprecedented wave of new development is hitting the city and residents are moving forward with neighborhood plans. About 1,700 new apartment units are in the works; in the past, less than a sixth of that figure was considered a major year for development.
And many more proposals could be right around the corner. While the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005's tax incentives sparked Capstone's proposed development, officials say few ' if any ' of the current 1,700 planned units are Go Zone related.
"People in this community need to know we are getting a lot of development in this area," says Hollier. "It is accelerating maybe faster than it ever has in the past. So the question is, do you want to just react to this development and hope for the best, or do you want to have some kind of guidance on what that growth is ultimately going to be?"
Freetown resident and University of Louisiana philosophy professor Istvan Berkeley has led the fight against Capstone and sees the dispute in a different context.
"There all kinds of references to smart growth that people keep talking about, but what Capstone proposes is a paradigm of dumb growth," he says.
The comprehensive Lafayette In a Century plan has been in development for a decade, as mandated by the state. There are now 10 neighborhood plans ready for review and formal adoption by the Planning and Zoning Commission, according to Planning Commissioner Fred Prejean.
Freetown residents' vision has been in the works since 2002, and envisions the "Parc du Quartier" ' at the same location where Capstone hopes to build its apartments. This park is the centerpiece of the neighborhood plan and includes a terraced amphitheater, Mardi Gras Museum, community center, swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts and other amenities.
Residents have disagreed over details of their own plan in the past, but internal neighborhood disputes have vanished in the face of the Capstone proposal. At last Thursday's meeting, residents overwhelmingly voiced support for the Neighborhood 7 Plan, which encompasses a larger area bordered by Pinhook Road, Johnston Street and University Avenue. Residents "voted" on the plan by filling out a survey, and it now goes to the Planning and Zoning Commission for review and formal adoption.
Capstone Executive Vice President Kent Campbell says the neighborhood's ideas for a park should not be allowed to stand in the way of his company's proposed development.
"It's a great wish list item, but it is simply that," he says. "It is not likely something that would ever come to fruition. There are no funds for it, and no one has ever sought to buy it. If the city council puts any stock in that plan, then they are having the people who own that land have their rights denied. It is a clear violation of property rights."
The Planning and Zoning Commission denied the Capstone proposal May 15, but the City-Parish Council will consider the developer's appeal June 27. Residents who oppose the development hope their adoption of the Neighborhood 7 Plan will solidify grounds for rejection.
With election season just around the corner, the council is widely expected to defer to the residents and uphold the Planning and Zoning Commission's decision, especially since a two-thirds majority is required to overturn it. However, the question remains whether such a decision would hold water against a legal challenge by Capstone. Richard Becker, the attorney representing LCG in the matter, could not be reached for comment.
While residents contend that Capstone stands in the way of their future, they also argue that the project cuts them off from their past. Freetown was settled by free men of color in the 1840s and 1850s, according to local attorney Glenn Armentor, who provides a chronicle of the neighborhood's history on his law firm's Web site, www.glennarmentor.com/history.asp. After the war, Freetown residents formed the "True Friends Society," which battled the Knights of Ku Klux Klan and Riders of the White Camelia. At the turn of the century, descendents of this society built the Good Hope Hall, which is now home to Armentor's offices. The hall featured performances by Louis Armstrong and other jazz greats in the 1920s and '30s, and the field of the proposed Capstone site also hosted an annual street fair and the traveling circus.
"Businesses come and businesses go, but the neighborhood is what you are more concerned about, the people that have been here a long time," says Chris Brooks, who just opened Close to Home Daycare in the neighborhood. "You want to try to preserve all of that stuff."
Capstone's Campbell understands that some residents may regard the development as an invasion of their territory but says that doesn't make them right.
"Certainly I would love it if it were the other way around, but people don't like change," he says. "I don't think anyone has really taken the time to see what we are proposing here. But bottom line is they feel they are entitled to have that field, even though they don't own it and they have never made any effort to purchase it. Nevertheless, we intend to be good neighbors."
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday, March 12, 2014:
So far the Democratic agenda includes proposals to expand Medicaid; increase the minimum wage; offer equal pay to women; heighten regulations on predatory lending practices, like payday loans; and add more transparency in the governor’s office.
Hot-button education issues ranging from Common Core to charter schools have some lawmakers pushing to scrap the appointing process and go back to electing the state's super.
Police say the handcuffed man fatally shot himself in the back, but his family isn't buying the story.
Gov. Bobby Jindal offered a budget proposal that suggests new education and health care spending, pay raises for state workers and an incentive fund to encourage colleges to enhance their science, engineering and technology training.
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.