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Girard Park Residents Win First Step in Rezoning Fight

Girard Park Drive homeowners won the first battle to stop a rezoning proposal that would allow construction of a high-density apartment complex along the oak-lined street.

The Lafayette City-Parish Planning Commission voted Monday to recommend the City-Parish Council not rezone property primarily owned by Lafayette General along Girard Park Drive. The council is expected to introduce an ordinance Nov. 19 calling for the rezoning, which is the planning and development staff's administrative proposal, but consider the recommendation from the volunteer commission to reject the rezoning. Final adoption is expected Dec. 3.

The rezoning is part of phase 1 of the Oil Center Redevelopment Plan created in 2018 by the Downtown Development Association's Development and Design Center and adopted by the Planning Commission, Cathie Gilbert, planning manager for Lafayette Consolidated Government, said. Her staff will undertake phase 2, which includes the rest of the Oil Center, later this year.

Phase 1 involves rezoning land along Girard Park Drive from PASA Place (the old planetarium) to just past Hospital Drive to allow for up to 42 apartment units per acre. Under the existing zoning, only 17 apartments per acre are allowed. The Oil Center Redevelopment Plan, Gilbert said, calls for additional residences "to realize the potential of the Oil Center." The apartments, she added, would serve as a buffer between single-family homes and the rest of the Oil Center.

André Breaux of One Acadiana, the regional chamber of commerce, said one of the group's strategies is revitalization of the urban core. The Oil Center provides the opportunity for mixed-use development with residences, offices, retail and restaurants in a walkable, vibrant neighborhood. The One Acadiana urban revitalization committee, he said, is in full support of the Oil Center Redevelopment Plan.

Corey Jack, also on staff at One Acadiana, said the Oil Center plan was developed "with extensive stakeholder input," including the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, One Acadiana and business and property owners in the Oil Center. 

Judy Mahtook who lives two doors from the proposed apartment complex said she served on a committee in 2010 when the University of Louisiana at Lafayette architecture design students developed the first Oil Center plan. She said she was invited to serve on the committee to represent residents and homeowners, none of whom were invited to provide input on the 2018 Oil Center Redevelopment Plan.

"If we're truly part of the Oil Center, why weren't we invited to the table?" Mahtook asked.

Other homeowners in the neighborhood told the planning commission about covenants and agreements attached to property at Girard Park Drive and Hospital Drive that would limit the height and number of apartments allowed there.

"This is the prettiest place in Lafayette and they are trying to put a blight on it," homeowner Jim Diaz said. 

A Girard Woods Drive homeowner, Eric Elias, described oak trees along the property with resurrection fern growing on their large limbs, an indication the trees are at least 100 years old. He said he documented more than 37 species of birds in the neighborhood, suggesting an environmental impact study should be conducted before anything is done.

Tony Gordon, who owns two acres and a home on Girard Park Drive, said Lafayette General representatives lied to him and broke a gentleman's agreement by allowing valet parking at night in a parking garage that backs up to his multi million dollar home. He also questioned what will happen if the property is rezoned for apartments, allegedly for medical residents at Lafayette General, when Ochsner takes over the hospital. 

Cian Robinson of Lafayette General, said the rezoning is needed to allow for growth of the Oil Center over the next 20-30 years. Asked after the meeting if the hospital has a plan for the property and how many apartments the plan includes, Robinson said Lafayette General cannot develop a firm plan or determine how many apartments it would build until the zoning is decided.

Planning Commission member John Guilbeau, who was elected to the Lafayette Parish Council District 4 seat Oct. 12, said it pains him to see plans to replace a beautiful area of the city with bricks and mortar. 

"The sounds of nature will be replaced with the revving of motors," he said.

Everyone on the planning commission except Blair Green voted against rezoning the Girard Park property.

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