One month after approval for a Denham Springs-area 2,000 lot subdivision failed in a tie vote before the Livingston Parish Council, it appeared again on the agenda.
This time, it passed.
Deer Run, which is slated for 4-H Club Road across from Hillon Hood Road, has loomed large over the council for several months. The neighborhood is the latest in a string of large developments proposed in the last year that ultimately pushed the parish council to pass a temporary building moratorium that remains ongoing .
The council has promised a check on development since last year when members imposed the parish’s first ever zoning categories in a region known for its strong support of property owners.
Nevertheless, new projects have continued to flood the parish unabated, bringing more and more angry and anxious people to pack meetings. They fear their way of life — which has long been rural and quiet — will be destroyed in the rush.
Residents had spent weeks urging the council to consider how thousands of Deer Run homes would worsen traffic, increase flooding and overcrowd their schools.
Rather than a dedicated, hours-long procession of opposition to the proposal as seen in previous meetings, only a few residents spoke out last Thursday before the official vote to approve the expansive Deer Run subdivision.
“We have come to meetings for months and we’re tired of having to babysit,” said Melissa Johnson, a resident who asked the council to defer the vote. “I think people are just exhausted.”
Although the subdivision proposal had failed in a 4-4 tie several weeks before, council member Shane Mack put the item back on the agenda and said the developer had abided by all their ordinances.
“I couldn’t find a justifiable reason to deny the preliminary site plan — to deny him his right to develop that property being that he was following the law to the ‘T’ and met every single requirement in the book,” Mack said. “I put myself in his shoes.”
The Deer Run subdivision is being developed by Ascension Properties, Inc.
Potential legal challenges have been at the heart of the council’s approvals of controversial developments.
Before the latest round of ordinances intended to rein in rampant growth swept through the council, members spent long hours in public meetings bickering over whether they could reject a different subdivision in the same unincorporated Denham Springs-area .
After the council reached out for guidance, the state attorney general’s office suggested that rejecting the subdivision plan could get them slapped with a lawsuit . The parish attorney agreed, and the subdivision ended up passing with that opinion in hand.
As their constituents have reacted in anger time and again over various approvals, council members have repeatedly said they don’t like passing certain projects — but their own laws give them little choice.
In the meantime council members have ramped up their efforts to pass a flurry of ordinances in recent weeks aimed at restricting development to foster “responsible growth” before their self-imposed, 60-day moratorium deadline. Those include: requiring developers to submit studies early in the planning process that show how their projects would affect traffic, drainage, fire protection and schools; reducing the number of lots to 2.5 per acre; and regulating development on wetlands, among others.
Last Thursday’s Deer Run decision passed with just two council members — Randy Delatte and Gerald McMorris — voting no. Although the parish remains under the moratorium, the original site plan was submitted before the pause.
The few residents who spoke at the meeting expressed their disappointment that the council was again considering the subdivision. They appeared disheartened, disillusioned and desperate while standing at the podium — suggesting they knew their efforts were futile.
Johnson, the resident who asked the council to defer the vote, was particularly concerned because she said her councilmember, R.C. “Bubba” Harris, has been difficult to reach while he has been in and out of the hospital for health issues. He was absent from the meeting.
She begged the council to do more than consider their own legal interests.
“Y’all were voted in to do what’s best for the residents of this parish,” Johnson said. “That’s just all there is to it.”