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Building Tension

Written by Emily Bell on . Posted in Local

Six houses currently being built on Court Street have caused some Port Allen residents to call for changes to the city’s zoning ordinance and to accuse the interim mayor of using her office for personal gain.

Port Allen resident Leonard Jackson raised concern during the Feb. 12 city council meeting over three properties on Court Street where houses are being built, according to ordinance, a minimum of six feet apart. Jackson questioned the safety of such a distance between houses and asked the council, “Do you think that safety comes first?”

“Yes,” Councilwoman Ray Helen Lawrence said.

“The ordinance and the zoning, it can be changed,” Jackson said, and he said it needs to be changed now.

According to the WBR Parish Assessor’s website, the six lots are located on the 1200 and 1300 blocks of Court Street and are owned by Westside Development LLC.

Westside Development LLC purchased the lots from Mayor Lynn Robertson and her husband Tom, listed as Gettoono II LLC, on Dec. 23. Nearly one week prior, Gov. Bobby Jindal appointed Robertson interim mayor of Port Allen.

“Something just don’t look right about it,” Jackson said. “On December 24, a permit was issued.”

Port Allen CAO Adrian Genre, who was out of his office at the time of going to press on Monday, March 3, and therefore unable to verify the exact date of issuance, said that the permit was issued “right around the beginning of construction.”

According to the assessor’s website, the three properties (two lots per property) were sold for $57,000 each, meaning that the sale of the six lots totaled $171,000.

However, Robertson denied doing anything for personal gain.

She said at the end of the meeting during announcements and correspondence, “I served as mayor for 12 years… In that amount of time and during that period, none of my administrative staff, nor I, nor any council person that I know of or that I have worked with, has done anything for personal gains.”

Earlier in the meeting, Robertson told Jackson, “There’s no conscious effort to allow or disallow anything. We abide by the ordinance.”

Genre said nothing new was done with these lots and that there was no special treatment involved.

“This isn’t something that we created... or allowed for this one instance,” he said.

He explained that the lots are two 25-foot lots and four 30-foot lots that are considered “lots of record” in the city’s zoning ordinance.

Genre said probably three-fourths of the properties in the city are lots of record, meaning, they are parceled 25-foot and 30-foot lots that existed “prior to our zoning ordinance being put in place in 1989,” and, therefore, don’t meet 8-foot side setback and 60-foot lot requirements.

Genre said that if a 25-foot lot were required to have an 8-foot setback on each side, that would leave a homebuilder with only nine feet to build a house. He said that’s why the ordinance allows lots of record to have up to a 3-foot side setback.

He said the problem with changing the ordinance is that it would render many properties in Port Allen useless.

Genre said, if anything, the city has scrutinized this project more than most.

He said any time a question has been raised, the city has halted construction.

Though it was not required, he said the homebuilder, Josh Russo, commissioned an independent survey of all six lots by a licensed, certified surveyor at Russo’s own expense.

“All six lots… have passed slab inspection,” Genre said, and they must also pass various other inspections before being issued a certificate of occupancy, Genre said.

“It’s inspected numerous times during the building process,” he said, and the parish does those inspections.

Genre said he thinks some members of the community are involved in “political wrangling.”

“They are trying to make an issue, they are trying to make a story,” he said.

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