Parish being sued over zoning dispute

Written by Emily Bell on . Posted in Local

All one Port Allen man wants to do is to roof and eventually enclose an existing concrete slab on his property. 

Residents and the parish council won’t allow it, citing nonconforming use in an agricultural area, burdens to residents and previous problems with the property.

Now, Floyd Edwards, of 12125 S. Palmer Lane, is suing the parish.

Edwards opened his business, C & F Fabricators and Construction Company, Inc., on S. Palmer Lane in 1988, ten years prior to the adoption of parish-wide zoning ordinances and prior to the extent of residential development in the area today.

In 1998, the parish zoned Edwards’ land agricultural, “a mistake in the adoption of the zoning ordinance,” Edwards’ attorney, Stephen Irving, said.

Since 1998, Edwards’ property has fallen under the parish definition of nonconforming use, “a use of any land, building, or structure which does not conform with currently applicable use regulations for the district in which it is located, but which complied with use regulations in effect at the time the use was established,” according to the parish compiled ordinances.

A nonconforming use classification makes any modifications to Edwards’ property next to possible.

When asked if Edwards had protested the agricultural zoning before, Irving said, “There was no realization there was a problem until he tried to expand his building.”

Irving said Edwards’ business has long provided revenue and jobs for the parish, currently employing 15 people.

In the zoning decision appeal served to West Baton Rouge Parish, Irving states that a large metal building and an adjacent concrete slab were built on the property prior to the enactment of any zoning ordinances.

The concrete slab, the appeal states, is used to “fabricate some items outside in the weather.”

However, in order to modify the slab in any way, even to make it more environmentally friendly by enclosing it, Irving said, he and Edwards were required to pursue rezoning from agricultural to industrial.

On Sept. 4, the issue came before the WBR Parish Zoning Commission, who unanimously approved the rezoning on the grounds that “the business was there before” and any variances should be grandfathered in, according to the meeting minutes.

The decision came despite protestations from residents of Palmer Country Estates, who said Edwards’ business is a source of noise and air pollution, general unsightliness, and truck traffic, which they said would by all accounts increase if Edwards were allowed to expand.

Residents again objected to the rezoning when the issue came before the parish council on Sept. 13.

Brice Schexnayder, a resident in the area, distributed pamphlets to council members containing copies of a petition signed by approximately 50 residents, he said. Seventeen residents total stated their name for the record at the meeting in opposition to the rezoning.

Schexnayder said if the council rezoned the property, it would open it up to further, perhaps unwelcome, industrial issues in the future.

Director of Public Works Kevin Durbin noted issues in the past with Edwards not removing items being stored on an adjacent lot to the one in question. Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot said Edwards, since the Sept. 13 council meeting, has removed all items from that area.

The parish council objected to the rezoning, due to concerns over possible decreased land value of the surrounding properties and possible burdening of public facilities.

Council member Barry Hugghins said, “True enough, when zoning was put into place, there were properties that were not zoned according to their current use…However, there was also a definition of nonconforming use written into the code, so if the code hadn’t foreseen that that was going to happen, it would’ve been absurd to spend the time to write a nonconforming definition into the code.”

Hugghins and fellow council member Ricky Loupe said they would be in favor of a special use permit; however, Hugghins said the code as he understands it does not allow the council to issue Edwards a special use permit.

The council unanimously denied the rezoning. 

Irving said the decision of the zoning commission was ultimately correct, and that he expects that to be the outcome of the litigation.

The parish has 15 days from being served with the zoning decision appeal to respond.

As it stands now, “[Edwards] can continue to operate,” Durbin said, “The problem is that he cannot expand. He can’t expand his buildings and he can’t expand his activity.”

The parish council will also look at its speed bump policy, Berthelot said.

Council chair Gary Spillman said at the Oct. 11 council meeting that some residents had contacted the parish to install speed bumps on their roads, but that residents, specifically on Louise St., say they don’t want them now and are asking the parish to remove the newly installed speed bumps.

“Some of them worked well, no complaints. And then some others wanted some, we put them in, and people contacted and said they didn’t want them now,” Spillman said.

Berthelot said a standard speed bump costs around $600.



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