[StBernard] St. Bernard Parish may vote on apartment ban

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Wed Sep 16 08:42:08 EDT 2009

St. Bernard Parish may vote on apartment ban
by Chris Kirkham, The Times-Picayune
Tuesday September 15, 2009, 10:54 PM

Parish Councilman Wayne Landry says homeowners need a way to stabilize
their property values.Less than a week after a federal judge ruled that St.
Bernard Parish officials violated the federal Fair Housing Act in attempts
to block mixed-income apartments in the parish, the Parish Council Tuesday
night called for a November special election that would give voters the
chance to permanently ban most future apartment developments.

The move is already being criticized by the plaintiffs in the fair housing
case who prevailed against St. Bernard three times in federal court this
year. Attorneys with the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center sent
a letter to the parish's attorneys this month, and the group's general
counsel echoed the objection Tuesday.

"St. Bernard Parish officials just don't seem to be getting the message, "
said Morgan Williams of the action center. "The purpose and intent behind
this ordinance, coming as it does after three findings by the U.S. District
Court holding the parish in contempt, is transparently discriminatory."

Parish Councilman Wayne Landry said the move is needed to give homeowners a
way to stabilize their property values and chart a course for how the parish
will look in the future. Parish officials have continually said they believe
there is an oversupply of rentals and single-family homes in the parish,
leading to instability.

"We're not violating any laws, we're enacting smart zoning to protect our
property values. That's what we're doing, " Landry said. "It has nothing to
do with low-income, no-income, high-income. It has nothing to do with
income, race, class, anything else."

Landry read from the most recent ruling against the parish, "Leadership is
not finding an angry crowd and getting in front of it to goad it on. A
leader takes people where they want to go, and a great leader takes people
where they do not necessarily want to go but ought to be."

He responded, "I'm of the opinion that where we ought to be is doing
everything legally within our bounds to oppose that judge's decision."

Daniel Erath/The Times-Picayune archive
'St. Bernard Parish officials just don't seem to be getting the message,'
said Morgan Williams of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action
Center.The council vote sets the stage for a Nov. 14 special election on a
zoning change that would prohibit developers from building apartments of
more than six units.

The potential apartment ban would not affect the four 72-unit mixed-income
complexes that have been at the center of the federal court battle between
the parish and the Fair Housing Action Center and developers Provident
Realty Advisors of Dallas. Those apartment complexes are further along in
the process, after U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan ruled last week that
parish officials were in contempt of court by continuing to oppose
Provident's bid to obtain building permits.

The council initially considered a voter referendum that, if passed, would
have forced developers to seek voter approval each time they wanted to build
apartment complexes of more than 12 units. The new version would prohibit
future developments of more than six units altogether.

The effect of the voter-approved change would be similar to last year's
Parish Council building ban on apartments of more than five units. That ban
prompted the current lawsuit with Provident and the fair housing action

Berrigan tossed out the moratorium in March, ruling that the building ban
was racially discriminatory because of its effect on minorities trying to
rent in the parish.

The parish's Planning Commission then denied Provident's attempts to
resubdivide the four properties, a procedural step needed to proceed with
construction. The judge ruled again in August and then last Friday that
those denials violated her previous orders and the Fair Housing Act, writing
last week that "defendants are not free to defy this court simply because
they think they know better."

To get the measure on a Nov. 14 ballot, the parish would have to pass the
ordinance and get approval from the state Bond Commission and the secretary
of state's office before Sept. 29.

The council also approved language for a special election that would let
voters decide whether to enact a $10-a-month fire protection fee that would
remain in effect for six years. The money would go toward budget shortfalls
for the Fire Department, easing some of the pressure on the parish's general
fund over the next few years. The parish has projected a $7 million budget

Parish Councilman Mike Ginart questioned the need to rush the fee, assessed
on all homes and businesses that have a water account, onto a November
ballot, instead of getting more information about the exact budget

Parish President Craig Taffaro also suggested further review, arguing, "If
we're going to ask, let's ask for what we really need to get us through the
next six years, instead of piecemealing."

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