The proposal to expand the zoning near Girard Park Drive to allow the building of high-density apartments has been put on hold after being rejected by the Lafayette City-Parish Council at their Tuesday meeting on Dec. 2.
The rezoning would have allowed high-density apartments to be built along with vacant areas near Girard Park Drive and Hospital Drive and open up more homes for Lafayette General Medical Center employees wanting to live near the hospital. However, residents along Girard Park Drive living in single-family homes were against the rezoning efforts.
This proposal was the first step in a series of efforts to rezone the area of Lafayette known as the Oil Center, according to Lafayette Consolidated Government Development Department Planner Eric Nielsen.
“There’s an overall plan for the oil center,” Nielsen said. “That overall plan is to basically re-examine it, to make sure that there’s the right kind of zoning. The first phase of that was Girard Park because the hospital there is an anchor. They’re not going anywhere, and so basically, they want to expand. The hospital owns the piece of property across the corner of Hospital Drive and Girard Park. The units were actually going to be for the hospital, and the units were to house doctors. The doctors could walk to and from the hospital.”
The rezoning proposal, known as “RM2,” was going to allow 42 apartment units per acre to be built so more people could move in rather than the current RM1 plan, which allows 17 units per acre.
“This happened to coincide with the plans that LCG has for the whole administrative rezoning of the Oil Center, referred to as the Arts District,” Nielsen said. “It was actually sponsored by LCG, the reason why was to allow higher density.”
Many of the residents along Girard Park Drive live in single-family homes, and the thought of having a multi-story apartment complex overseeing them didn’t sit well.
“LCG, the Planning Department, had a couple of neighborhood meetings,” Nielsen said. “We explained what it was we wanted to do, why we wanted to do it. Basically explained that we’re looking at the Oil Center as a whole to try and right zone it and prepare for it for next wave of growth. We met some resistance from the neighbors in both of those public meetings.”
The residents’ resistance led it to become a case that was brought to the LCG Planning Commission in November in which they won.
“It actually became a case after those public meetings,” Nielsen said. “A zoning case, and it went to the zoning commission. Their job is to make a recommendation for the City-Parish Council. They generally hear these cases, they make a recommendation, then it goes to the City-Parish Council. The zoning commission on this particular case, the neighbors showed up, nobody was happy with it, and the bottom line is the zoning commission made a decision to recommend to the City-Parish Council not to grant the rezoning based on the neighbors.”
The residents proceeded to show up at the City-Parish Council meeting, and the Council ended up siding with them and the commission, so no changes ended up occurring.
“When it went to the City-Parish Council, the neighbors came out as well,” Nielsen said. “They didn’t get enough votes at the City-Parish Council so it did not pass and basically got killed. So the bottom line is basically nothing happened, everything’s still the same. The zoning has stayed the same, nothing changed. A certain amount of time has to pass before you can try and ask for rezoning again. That period is two years, and that’s two years from when the decision was made by the City-Parish Council.”
While people being resistant to change is natural according to LCG Planner Patricia Labin, the hope is that they will eventually no longer fear the proposed changes and allow for the rezoning to take place.
“We weren’t taking anyone’s houses or anyone’s property from them,” Labin said. “We were just rezoning pieces of land that could have a better use on top of them than they have right now. People generally don’t like change, and they can’t envision what a potential project could look like, and that’s where a developer could come in and maybe ease their fear.”