The St. Tammany Parish Council had to ignore the pleas of more than 300 Covington, Louisiana residents last week when they voted to support construction of a Wal-Mart supercenter as part of a 1.l million square foot “lifestyle center.” According to the Times Picayune, the anti-Wal-Mart crowd spilled out of the council chambers into the lobby, and even flowed outside of the building. The Parish Council affirmed the decision in early December by the St. Tammany Zoning Commission to grant a zoning change for the center. Covington residents testified that the Wal-Mart supercenter, plus Sam’s Club would snarl traffic along already congested Route 21. After three hours of debate, Covington’s Councilor, Marty Dean, offered a motion to reverse the Zoning Commission vote to rezone 75 acres from residential to highway commercial, but his motion failed, and the Council went on to vote for the rezoning. The project will be constructed by Colonial Properties Trust, based in Birmingham, Alabama, and with 75 stores, is one of the largest retail projects in the history of St. Tammany. Covington residents argued that the big box stores would lower the quality of residential living in the area, especially the Flower Estates residential subdivision. The developer sweetened the pot by offering to put up as much as $8 million in roadwork — a self-serving gesture — since the project could not proceed without the road upgrades. Colonial Properties also offered to spend $2.4 million to change a rest area into an interchange — again, for purely selfish ends. One resident of Flower Estates testified that all this money was simply a way to buy approval for the project. “(The developer) is saying the quality of life in this parish is for sale and his client is willing to buy it for $7 to $8 million.” The Mayor of Covington came out against Wal-Mart, and noted that the parish’s land use plan for the parcel said it was supposed to be used for mixed uses, like residential and light commercial. “A vibrant neighborhood deserves protection,” the Mayor was quoted as saying by the Times Picayune. Parish President Kevin Davis said he was not told that Wal-Mart and Sam’s were part of the deal when he was first briefed by Colonial. “Your heartburn is with the Wal-Mart and Sam’s,” Davis told neighbors. “That’s something the council has to deal with.” But the Council’s vote means they did not deal with protecting the neighborhood at all.
Colonial Properties Trust has 9 “lifestyle centers” throughout the South, including Colonial Pinnacle Craft Farms in Gulf Shores, Ala., and Colonial Pinnacle Kingwood Commons in Houston. These centers are no doubt called “lifestyle centers” because they enhance the lifestyle of the developers, who live nowhere near such centers.