[StBernard] St. Bernard Council sends housing case back to planning commission

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Fri May 22 22:33:55 EDT 2009

St. Bernard Council sends housing case back to planning commission
by Chris Kirkham, The Times-Picayune
Tuesday May 19, 2009, 10:44 PM
Their decision was informal, but the St. Bernard Parish Council's message
was clear Tuesday after hearing an appeal from plaintiffs' lawyers in a
federal fair housing case centered on four mixed-income apartments proposed
in Chalmette.

The council voted simply to refer the matter back to the parish's Planning
Commission, which last month blocked a procedural step needed for the Dallas
developers to move forward with construction after hours of heated verbal
opposition from residents. Lawyers for the developers and a local fair
housing group had hoped the council would overturn that decision Tuesday,
but before the discussion even began the council told the lawyers it was
going to send the matter back to the Planning Commission.

At one point, Tuesday's meeting devolved into a series of objections and
comments from crowd members, who purposely coughed during discussion and
called out, "We don't want you here; go back to where you came from."

Earlier in the meeting, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the fair
housing case argued that the developers were not informed of requirements
needed and were "ambushed" at the Planning Commission meeting in late April.

"It's our view that the (commission's) decisions with respect to each of
these properties was ill-considered, that it was without support and that it
was taken without fair consideration of rules and procedures, " said
attorney John Relman, who represents the developers, Provident Realty
Advisors, and the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.

Councilman Wayne Landry told Relman that "what you're telling us are your
arguments that you need to be making to the Planning Commission."

"Believe me, if it was my vote, I'd be voting to tell you I'd be upholding
their position, " Landry said.

The apartments have been at the center of a contentious federal court drama
in which a judge ordered in late March that the parish rescind a
construction ban that was blocking the Provident developments. U.S. District
Judge Ginger Berrigan sided with the developers and the Fair Housing Action
Center, ruling that "the Parish and Council's intent in enacting and
continuing the moratorium is and was racially discriminatory."

A little more than a month later, the Planning Commission denied the
developers' request for a resubdivision, a procedural step needed to carve
smaller tracts out of larger lots. Provident and the landowners who sold
them the lots, the Arlene and Joseph Meraux Charitable Foundation and the
Randazzo family, had asked the council to appeal the decision.

To do that, the council would have needed to formally introduce an ordinance
Tuesday requesting the resubdivision, and then vote on it at the next
council meeting.

Earl Dauterive, the Planning Commission chairman, told the council Tuesday
that he "took great offense to what the applicant or the applicants cohort
professed up here."

"We gave them time to speak, " he said. "At certain times they refused to
answer questions."

Dauterive said the developers can re-apply to the Planning Commission for
the resubdivision at any time.

Several parish residents chimed in against the four 72-unit complexes, which
would reserve 50 percent of their units for tenants who make less than about
$35,000 annually, and 20 percent for tenants who make less than about
$20,000 per year.

. . . . . . .

Chris Kirkham can be reached at ckirkham at timespicayune.com or 504.826.3321.

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