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Council seeking to improve Code of Ordinances

LAPLACE—St. John the Baptist Parish’s Code of Ordinances, which has come under intense criticism for being too unwieldy, inconsistent and confusing, is likely headed for dramatic improvements.

The parish council, displaying exuberance and unity, enthusiastically authorized a request from the administration to advertise a Request for Proposal for an audit of the outdated ordinances. The goal is to increase efficiency in land development and code enforcement.

Rene Pastorek, director of planning and zoning, said the RFP is needed to procure a qualified firm to conduct a review and audit of the ordinances and recommend amendments to remove barriers to growth, streamline permitting procedures and improve efficiency in code enforcement.

Reaction among the council members was as much relief as joy. The code has been the source of frustration for parish officials, residents, builders and even developers as they have attempted to navigate the murky ordinances. The code frequently sparked controversy involving the administration of former President Natalie Robottom and the council, particularly when addressing the demolition of abandoned homes that were considered safety hazards.

“The ordinances need to be redone; some are copied from St. Charles Parish,” Councilman Warren Torres said, emphasizing his point by reading one ordinance that mistakenly has St. Charles Parish in the wording.

“It is long overdue,” Councilwoman Tammy Houston said. “The ordinances should be enforceable.”

Councilman Kurt Becnel even went so far as to call some ordinances “mean spirited and ignorant.”

Pastorek said a qualified team well versed in ordinance development is being sought.

Parish President Jaclyn Hotard said she wants the code to include efficiency in land development and the ordinances to be clear in their meaning. She noted that since taking office in January she has authorized the demolition of several abandoned houses that were deemed hazardous and hopes to take down even more.

Also during the meeting:

-Council members voted to uphold the Planning Commission’s denial of two similar rezoning applications for plots of land from R-1 to Rural District. Approval would have allowed the land to be turned into clay pits, with spoil from those pits being sold to the U.S. government for the West Shore Levee Protection Project.

The tracts of land were near the River Forest subdivision. Many residents packed the foyer outside of the council chambers to voice their opposition against the proposals. The issue has come before the council on at least two previous occasions, and council members have sided with the residents who said they were trying to protect their own property.

Without comment this past Tuesday, the council voted to uphold the commission’s denial.

-Approval was granted for the parish to enter into a disposal agreement for landfill services with River Birch LLC, which will result in an estimated $80,000 savings in the first year of the 10-year contract. The contract calls for the disposal of all non-hazardous solid waste.

Houston expressed concern regarding the length of the contract but Director of Purchasing and Procurement Peter Montz said the expiring contract was a 20-year agreement. Houston suggested a five-year contract but Montz informed her that the 10-year deal was required to secure the savings.

-Changes may also soon be coming to the Lions Water Treatment Plant as the council approved an agreement with Burk-Kleinpeter for engineering work to convert a second floor room at the plant into a new electrical room. Chief financial officer Rob Figuero said the existing electrical control room has no area for expansion or improvements.

The total estimated cost of the entire project is about $700,000, Hotard said, although a more accurate estimate will be presented once the engineering work is completed.

-Library director Andrea Tullos informed council members that a property has been identified as a potential new site to replace the cramped Reserve facility, which is not only stymied by size but parking nightmares. She noted that many residents elect to visit other library locations because of the parking challenges.

A vacant piece of property sits next to the library but the owners have shown no interest in selling, Gullos said.

She revealed the new site sits next to the theatre on River Road in Reserve and will be a revitalization of a historic property. She is hoping to present a proposal to the council in November.

Torres questioned the plan and noted that the Library Board has no representative from District 2, which he serves. He also asked if there was a record of talks among library officials and property owners adjacent to the current building to discuss any potential sale of the land.

“This is a sore subject for me,” he said.