The university plans to swap 36 of its 100-acre undeveloped Johnston Street horse farm for Lafayette attorney James Davidson III's Girard Park property, which it says appraised at $18.20 per square foot. Though zoned for single-family dwellings, the Davidson property that includes homes at 537 and 539 Girard Park Drive has housed a well-hidden industrial site for a plastics injection molding plant, ASH Industries, since at least the early '90s ("Horse Play," Oct. 19).
At a Nov. 22 meeting at the university's Alumni Center intended to allay concerns of residents living near the horse farm, UL official Wayne Denton said a Phase I environmental assessment had been conducted on the Davidson land as required by the University of Louisiana System. "We're OK [after] some things [are] removed from the property," Denton said. He did not give specifics on the materials in question. "There had been no spillage that could be determined," he noted. He also said the swimming pool, used as a cooling facility for the business, will be drained and cleaned before the university assumes the property.
Denton did not indicate that further testing would be conducted.
Resident Jacklyn Sonnier Hirshberg wants to know more. Hirshberg has lived on Girard Woods Road all of her life and was unaware until recently that this kind of business is operating in her neighborhood. Hirshberg said she's since contacted local, state and federal environmental officials. "Who knows what's in our air and our grass," she said. "I'd like to know what I've been breathing. If I had known there was a plastics factory going on out there, I would have stopped it."
When fighting property owner Davidson's attempt to rezone his property for commercial use in 1998, Hirshberg learned a business housed at the site was grandfathered into local zoning because it had operated for more than two years. "It was never brought out that it was a plastics factory," Hirshberg said.
Lafayette attorney Maureen Sullivan, who attended the meeting, agreed that the property needs further evaluation to protect the university. "Phase I is very cursory," she said. "If I were in business and I were buying that property, I would by no means rely on a Phase I, even though that's all the law requires."
In recent weeks, Hirshberg has been aggressively seeking to have the business shut down or relocated to a more appropriate commercial spot. She's getting no assistance from city zoning officials, who insist there is nothing they can do to stop the business ' despite the company's apparent expansion over the years, a clear violation of the state law that allowed it be grandfathered. As recently as April 2005, a permit equivalent to the electrical power needed to run a small restaurant was issued for the 539 address; there also is no record of a building permit ever being issued for the large metal building that houses some of the business. "We just can't figure out when it got there," said Eleanor Bouy, director of local government's department of Planning, Zoning & Codes. Still, Bouy plans to take no action against ASH Industries, which is owned by Davidson's son-in-law.
The university is seeking to have the Zoning Commission reclassify the first 36 acres of the horse farm from residential to commercial on Dec. 5, which must also be approved by the City-Parish Council. In the meantime, UL claims the property is being reappraised to reflect its potential commercial value to BRE-ARD LLC, which is buying the Davidson land and swapping it for the horse farm acreage. In the initial appraisal, only the first six acres were given the benefit of commercial use and were valued at $6 per square foot; the 24 just beyond the coulee at $1.30/psf and the last six at $1.03/psf. BRE-ARD's owners, Dan Menard and Jerry Brents, will return six acres to the university after the deal, and the back 70 acres will be retained by UL for future upscale residential development.
Because commercial land typically sells higher than residential, UL President Ray Authement admits the deal may have to be renegotiated.
The Board of Supervisors for the UL System approved the land swap on Aug. 26. A board spokesman did not respond by press time about whether any change in the structure of the transaction would require the board's approval.
The land swap issue has been a source of controversy for the university, mainly from residents, business leaders and students who believe the university stands to lose because of the low value placed on the horse farm and the high value placed on the Davidson property. Authement did not put the horse farm out for public bid, a move most observers believe would fetch a higher return for the university.
In the meeting, Authement insisted he desperately needs the Davidson property for faculty housing and eventually a president's home. He also raised the ire of residents by continually emphasizing the legality of the transaction. "This is as good and legal a deal as we can come up with," he said.
Resident Laurel Lee Domingue, who said her late husband Pat was a big financial supporter of the university, asked Authement why he wanted homes that are more than 50 years old and in need of repair. "I know your intentions are admirable," she said shortly before leaving the meeting in frustration. "But I don't know why you are so hung up on those Davidson houses."
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.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Ten departing CEOs rake in $430 million; profile of FSU gunman emerges; Buffalo's weather woes and more national and international news for Friday, November 21, 2014.
The Ethics Board gives the lame duck Youngsville mayor permission to offer a sweet parting gift to the community he’s presided over for three terms.
The money came through a general obligation bond sale Thursday.
A legend in the Acadiana Oil Patch, Comeaux died Monday, Nov. 17.
With a growing number of alleged sexual assault victims coming out against Bill Cosby in recent weeks, upcoming projects have been canned by NBC and Netflix, but that won’t affect the once-loved comedian and actor’s scheduled performance in Lafayette.
The Baltimore Ravens' retooled secondary had no trouble against a rookie quarterback at home. This week, however, their task is far more challenging: stopping Drew Brees on the road in New Orleans.
Add Texas Gov. Rick Perry's name to the list of possible Republican presidential candidates flooding the campaign trail for GOP Senate candidate Bill Cassidy.
Gov. Bobby Jindal is in Florida this week with his fellow Republican governors for another gripe session aimed at their favorite target, the president, this time taking aim at his immigration plans.
Early voting for the runoff is shortened by two days because of the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Coach Don” Gagnard is running for school board. Today he offers his critique of the socioeconomic relationship between government subsidies and obesity.
Former Le Rosier chef who cooked at the James Beard House and was named one of the “Best New Chefs in America” by Food & Wine magazine in 1995 was 48.
Pat Cooper is contesting his termination by the LPSB, filing a petition Tuesday that calls the recent decision “arbitrary and capricious.”
A look at the numbers highlights the challenge facing Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu as she tries to win a fourth term in a Dec. 6 runoff against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is promising the new Republican majority will quickly resurrect Keystone XL pipeline legislation killed by Democrats, potentially setting up an early 2015 veto confrontation with President Barack Obama.
A national animal rights group has been rebuffed by a Baton Rouge district court judge, although the group might still get its day in court.
The administration says public college campuses won't be on the chopping block.
The legendary musician is performing at a $1,000-per-person fundraiser Dec. 1 in New Orleans.
Old savings and checking accounts, payroll checks, stocks and dividends, insurance proceeds, oil and gas royalty payments and other unclaimed money is sent to the state when a business cannot locate someone.