The Parish Zoning Commission in Covington, Louisiana listened for two hours to debate over a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter, and then voted 9-0 to table the project. The plan is strongly opposed by the Flower Estates subdivision. Nearby residents convinced the Commission that the project needs more careful study. A developer out of Birmingham, Alabama is proposing this huge retail project, more than 1.1 million square feet, according to the Times Picayune newspaper. As is often the case with these large projects, the land is not correctly zoned, so the developer has to request 76 acres be rezoned from single-family residential and light commercial, to highway commercial, an abrupt change in zoning. There is already 73 acres zoned for commercial use, so the total parcel would come to 149 acres of highway sprawl. The developer, Colonial Properties Trust, is calling the project a “lifestyle retail center,” to make it sound upscale, but the anchor tenant is a Wal-Mart supercenter and a Sam’s Club, so the neighbors aren’t too happy with what that will do to their residential lifestyle. Residents at the hearing complained that the two “big-box centers” would create traffic problems, lower property values and ruin the lifestyle in the Flower Estates subdivision. An attorney speaking for the residents told the Parish Commission that “the essence of this development is about stacking two big-box stores in an area zoned residential.” The developer said the Wal-Mart and Sam’s would be at least 700 feet from the nearest homesite in Flower Estates, and a masonry wall would be built behind the two stores. The developer also promised to pay the Parish $3 million in impact fees for road improvements along the Louisiana 21 corridor. A group of residents called the Association of Associations, told the Commission that the project might be acceptable if the developer presented it “without the big-box stores.” Colonial Properties Trust says they have developed nine of these “lifestyle centers” in five Southern states.
Developers like to refer to their projects euphemistically as “lifestyle centers”, or “town centres” or “village centers.” You can put a tuxedo on Frankenstein’s monster, but it’s still a monster. There is no mandate to rezone this land. The fact is, this land is not properly zoned, and the developer is free to pursue a development like this on commercially zoned land, that does not hurt the value of residential homes. In this hearing, the residents used a Sprawl-Busters study that showed how one homeowner in Lake Charles, Louisiana had lost 28% of value in her home once a Wal-Mart supercenter moved in. For local contacts in Covington, contact [email protected]