May 15, 2013 06:00 AM
The Andrus family's plan for a physician apartment complex is being favorably received by residents who have waged a long legal battle to keep their neighborhood just that - a neighborhood. The Andrus family's plan for a physician apartment complex is being favorably received by residents who have waged a long legal battle to keep their neighborhood just that - a neighborhood. By Walter Pierce

Wednesday, May 15, 2012

Given nearly a week to mull a proposed development in their historic, leafy neighborhood, Girard Park residents remain optimistic that a deal to end years of legal acrimony with neighbor Jim Davidson is at hand.

On May 1 the neighbors were given a PowerPoint presentation on the plan for an apartment complex on attorney Davidson's 4.1-acre tract at the Girard Park Drive/Hospital Drive intersection that will benefit the expansion needs of adjacent Lafayette General Medical Center. Architectural renderings show a two-phase development on the property that includes a 135-slot parking lot in the rear that will only be accessible via Hospital Drive (hence virtually invisible from the neighborhood) as well as the apartment complex comprising two four-story buildings (parking for the complex will be beneath the buildings on the ground level). The complex would be leased by LGMC and used for physicians completing their residencies.

A week after that May 1 presentation the neighbors met with their attorney, Gary McGoffin, who says it "was a very productive meeting with very good turnout."

The land is under contract for purchase and will be developed by the Dwight Andrus Co., a four-generation real-estate development firm with deep and respected roots in the Hub City. Renderings for the project depict a modern development with stucco-and-metal buildings with balconies. The developers hope to incorporate a pond in the center of the housing development that will connect via an underground aqueduct with the lake at Girard Park.

The apartment complex will have 63 units ranging from one to three bedrooms for physicians completing their residencies at the hospital and at University Medical Center, which LGMC is in the final stages of taking over from the state - a move that will give LGMC the distinction of being a teaching hospital like those within the state charity hospital system that Gov. Bobby Jindal is privatizing.

Some impediment to sealing the deal and allowing the Andruses to move forward with developing the property remain, notably the legal battle still being waged by the two sides that, if Davidson prevails, would allow him to void a 1940 neighborhood covenant stipulating that the area be perpetually zoned for single-family residences and apartments. The trial for that civil suit is set for November.

View from Girard Park Drive

But McGoffin has said he believes the two sides will reach an agreement before then. "It's not so much about negotiating at this point as it is about memorializing the agreement," he says. By "memorializing the agreement" McGoffin is referring to neighbors getting iron-clad legal assurances that the neighborhood covenant stipulating the area must remain residential is not breached. "What's happened in the past," McGoffin notes, "is [the neighbors have] had representations made to them that didn't pan out."

In addition, the neighbors will ask Davidson to pay their mounting legal costs as part of the deal. Also of concern is the landscaped roundabout planned for the intersection. Davidson donated two tenths of an acre to the city for construction of the earthen traffic-control structure, but in order for the city to complete construction according to current plans it would need to expropriate a chunk of neighbor Kolleen Verlander's corner property and demolish a legacy oak.

That's obviously a concern for Verlander, but not a deal-breaker, according to McGoffin, who calls pending discussions over the roundabout "an opportunity for everybody to sit down and figure out what's best."

The Andruses applied for zoning changes to the property on May 1. A public hearing on the zoning request will be held June 17 and, pending approval by Planning, Zoning & Codes, will go before the City-Parish Council on July 23. The Andruses hope to be turning dirt on the site by late summer/early fall, with a completion day within roughly a year.

View from Hospital Drive

This latest chapter in the saga is no doubt a welcome one to many of the residents, especially considering that the original Andrus/LGMC plan was for an office building at the location. That changed when LGMC began the process of taking over UMC and becoming a teaching hospital; it will need somewhere to house all those physicians completing their residencies. Plus, the new Andrus plan for the property maintains 32 percent of the current green space on the 4-plus acres including most of the "legacy" trees on the site - the city only requires developers to maintain 20 percent green space.

Resident Tony Gordon, whose home is closest to the proposed development, sounded encouraged by the new plans: "I will work with all parties to try to find a win-win for the future of the Davidson's property that protects my home investments and protects the character of this historic neighborhood."

David Callecod, LGMC president/CEO, believes each side has achieved the "win-win" to which Gordon alludes: "We've made a concerted effort to reach out to the neighbors that will be affected by the development and really took into consideration their past concerns as well as respecting the essence of the neighborhood. I think the plan really accomplishes many things - I think it meets our needs and protects the concerns of the neighborhood."

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