Jack Tolson
Opelousas City Council Local News

Board of Aldermen Delays Approval of Historic District Housing Development

Photo: Jack Tolson

Photo by FREDDIE HERPIN, Photographer

Contributing Writer

An $800,000 four-home housing development proposed for location inside the heart of the Opelousas Historic District has been delayed by a unanimous decision of the city’s Board of Aldermen.

Architectural drawings for a townhouse structure provided by project developers and displayed during a Tuesday night meeting indicate the housing unit is scheduled to be placed at the corner of East Grolee and Walnut streets.

Code Enforcement Director Margaret Doucet told the Board that the project was rejected by the Opelousas Planning Commission during a Monday meeting.

Individuals representing the townhouse project attended the meeting in order to appeal the Planning Commission vote and asked the Board to overturn it, allowing the building plan to proceed..

Doucet added that Planning Commission members decided before voting on the matter that developers had not provided enough information to make a decision on Monday.

Two of 34 residents contacted in the Grolee and Walnut Street areas, Doucet said show that they are opposed to the townhouse development locating on the now vacant lot that faces Walnut.

Alderwoman Sherell Roberts initially made a motion to accept the decision of the Planning Commission. After subsequent discussion Roberts changed her motion to table the issue until the developers could provide the Board with more information.

No representative from the Opelousas Historic District Commission was present at the meeting.

However Mayor Julius Alsandor read a statement provided by the Historic District which indicated it should up to the individual property owners in the area to make a final decision about the location of the development.

“While the (Historic) District approved the architectural design, the decision is in the hands of the residents with regards to their rights to quiet enjoyment,” the letter stated Alsandor said.

Mary Jackson, who spoke against allowing the development to move forward, said she objects to having the Board approve any zoning changes within the Historic District.

“If this is approved it will devaluate all of our property,” she told the Board.

According to Historic District regulations, the owner of any property within the Historic District must apply for a permit or certificate of appropriateness from the Commission before proceeding with any new building or other construction within the Historic District.

A letter from Melanie Lebouef, communications assistant with the Opelousas Historic District Commission to John E. Ortego owner of the property at Grolee and Walnut, said the Historic Commission had approved the development’s application for a certificate of appropriateness related to the construction of town homes on the vacant site.

Lebouef however wrote in the same letter that the Certificate of Appropriateness should be considered as a permit to proceed with the project. The certificate Lebouef wrote must be submitted to Code Enforcement in order to obtain the necessary permits to move forward with the construction.

Jack Tolson, who represented the development, said the Board would need to change the current zoning ordinance where the project is located. Tolson said the townhouses once completed will enhance the values of the houses in the area.

The change in current zoning requirements according to the meeting agenda requires Board approval for setting back property lines 15 and 10 feet and a reduction of the current lot size from 16,000 square feet to 10,492 square feet.

Tolson also told the Board that one of the objectives of a master plan prepared by the Opelousas Downtown Development District and approved by the Board is to revitalize the downtown area by creating residential investment within the business district.

“The townhouses we plan to build comply with the master plan which wants to repopulate the central business district. This is not a low income Section 8 housing development. Right now the city has 6,000 people who are living in substandard housing. People in this city deserve a decent place to live,” Tolson said.

Adding more housing units in Opelousas also might curb what Tolson said has been an ongoing trend to move out of an area inside a one-mile radius of the Courthouse.