St. Charles council rezones batture land

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HAHNVILLE, La. (AP) — The St. Charles Parish Council has approved a court-ordered law to rezone four tracts of Mississippi River batture property belonging to Bayou Fleet LLC.

NOLA.comThe Times-Picayune reported (http://bit.ly/Po9Ivy) the council also will pay $275,000 in attorney fees and expenses as part of the lawsuit it lost to the company.

The ordinance stems from a judgment order by U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle, who in February required the council to adopt the rezoning by March 10.

The council voted 7-0 to approve the ordinance at its March 10 meeting.

Bayou Fleet sued in 2010, claiming the Parish Council rejected its zoning request although neighboring landowners were approved for the same zoning change.

Company officials had sought to rezone the Hahnville property from B-1 to B-2 status. Some nearby residents objected, saying it would be intrusive and too noisy. B-1 zoning allows barge mooring, while B-2 includes ship repair, sand extraction and more intensive uses such as ship-breaking.

Company owner Robin Durant initially sued for $1.4 million in compensatory damages. The dismissed the damages claim but agreed with Durant that the council unfairly denied Bayou Fleet's zoning request.

Batture land lies between the Mississippi River and its levee.

Councilwoman Carolyn Schexnaydre said "justice and truth has been served." Schexnaydre had earlier voted to rezone the property, though the proposal was rejected by the full council. She testified during the trial of the lawsuit that Durant was not treated fairly.

"I'm sorry that the taxpayers had to spend money on this," she said. "It was nothing but political voting."

A Luling resident chastised council members for allowing the zoning dispute to progress to a lawsuit, calling it a waste of taxpayer money.

Tim Guidroz, who opposed a rezoning request last month to allow a heliport near his home, said the Bayou Fleet lawsuit indicates that St. Charles should revamp its Planning and Zoning Commission, which makes land-use recommendations to the Parish Council.

"I think we can all agree that it is unfortunate that in excess of $275,000 tax dollars have been wasted on litigation on this land-use matter," Guidroz said.

"I think this matter demonstrates that the current St. Charles Parish Planning and Zoning Commission and land-use process structure is ineffective, outdated and in dire need of changing," he told council members.

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Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com

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