THE LAWSON’S PEAK BOOKS

A Place for Everything…

Over the course of dang near 34 years in this sordid business, I have always maintained that if I should criticize, I should be equally eager to commend.
This week the St. Mary Parish council on an 8-3 vote denied development of an apartment complex in Garden City. Local opposition likely led to that decision. The developer has reportedly indicated he will sue.
Both are within their rights.
If you think about the process critically, the very progression of rezoning the property—any property—from agriculture to multi-use residential, then subdividing it, and then submitting a development plan, all require permission of parish boards and finally the parish council itself.
Now, I don’t claim to be an attorney, but this more than implies a procedural succession where boards of the parish council approve (if warranted) requests and then pass them on to the full parish council which then votes on the final disposition. That means that the parish council has the right to vote to approve or disapprove. So again, the parish council was within its authority.
The developer is also within his rights to file suit. I make no allegations regarding his intentions or credibility; I simply point out that parish government did what parish government is elected to do: represent the wishes of its constituency.
If the parish zoning ordinance had not been written to provide the parish council with the final say-so it would be a different story. But the law specifies that authority. A court may find differently, but I submit that though the letter of the law may back up such a potential ruling, the court be remiss to ignore the spirit and premise of the law and of representative government.
Communities across this nation regularly make decisions similar to this one. Many go out of their way to keep away “big box” stores to protect its local retailers. Some prohibit certain types of industry. All these are accomplished by the duly-elected representatives of the electorate.
For years we’ve been told that St. Mary Parish is desperate for housing, that X-number of people are driving in from elsewhere to work here. While that number might be correct, there was no survey performed that I know of asking if they want to live in St. Mary Parish. Therein lies the crux of the matter.
A quick perusal of the Banner’s real estate ads Wednesday reveals dozens of housing units for sale or rent. During the first go-round with the Garden City land several years ago, a survey I personally conducted revealed some 140 units on the market at that time. Raintree Village did not explode with houses built by persons working in St. Mary Parish and willing to move here.
The reasons are multiple: costs of permits and fees are outrageous and oppressive; tax rates are far too high; just a scant 20-30 mile drive away there’s far more to offer families, especially with children.
That’s not to criticize west St. Mary. We’ve made incredible strides in the past few years that make me very proud. But we’ve a long way to go. We won’t undo 30 years of doldrums overnight. Business and industry seems to have finally noticed us and more are probably coming, despite the obstacles presented by permits, fees and taxes.
Eastern St. Mary does better than us because they’re more geared toward industry and larger commercial operations. We remain rural and agrarian. East St. Mary also, for some reason I won’t explore today, has more amenities for families: walking trail, spray park, skate park, as shown in the pictures.

14 June 21 skate park Crystal0027 14 June 18 spraypark bayou vista - crystal 14 June 21 berwick walking trail Crystal0010
And that was the heart of the matter when it came to the Garden City debate: the residents of that close-knit community felt the proposed development does not fit their community. There are other places it might be more appropriate. Garden City can’t handle the traffic; the water system is inadequate to fight fires in such a huge complex; the sewer system will likely reach max capacity and, if any further growth occurs, have to be expanded, and someone will have to pay for all of that. There’s probably not enough room at Centerville School to accommodate even a theoretical 160+ families with a minimum two kids. Either they go to Franklin, or the school system starts looking for money to build a school, likely through increases in taxes.
I wish Mr. Harris well in his pursuits, but I do hope he scrutinizes those numbers regarding need for housing closely before he spends much more money. Many of us don’t think they hold water and should be viewed with suspicion. Perhaps that is about to change with the industry developing along the Charenton Canal…but that, also, remains to be seen.
What I hope Mr. Harris will also come to understand is that this isn’t about him personally; we’ve been sold so many pies in the sky over the last three decades that we’ve grown pretty skeptical of the “build it and they will come” adage. The golf course is a prime example.
Also, many of us have tried very hard to stay country, preferring our rural settings to cityscapes, even in what passes for cities in west St. Mary. Perhaps the old adage, “A place for everything, and everything in its place,” is most apt in this case.

1 comment to A Place for Everything…

  • Lisa Dantin

    I could not have said it better myself….love living in Charenton..(the country)for the past 18 years…and I was born & raised in Franklin..which is no where near the town it was when I left here!

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