Acadiana Business

Andruses, LGMC have big plans for Davidson land

by Leslie Turk

Girard Park residents may finally have an option that will get rid of a pesky neighbor for good.

In February 2012, in a cover story titled "Don't Back Down," this paper urged Girard Park residents not to give up in their long-standing battle against attorney Jimmy Davidson's attempts to bring commercial development to their historic neighborhood. As discussed in the story, these neighbors have stuck together for more than a decade, united in a passion to protect their quaint and historic piece of Lafayette from commercial intrusion.

We commend them for fighting the good fight. It has not been easy and it has not been cheap. More than a year later and what is now likely tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, the battle is far from over.

Photo by Robin May

The Davidson property at Girard Park and Hospital drives

Davidson has taken the group to court to nullify a 1940 covenant that restricts Girard Park Drive frontage - his property includes two homes facing the park - to residential use. When we reported that story, it was the latest in a string of controversial efforts to have his 4.1 acres at Girard Park and Hospital drives reclassified as commercial, which typically sells at a higher rate than residential. But now there is an option for development of the property that involves a respected local family with decades of experience in real estate, the Andruses.

It's certainly an alternative that could stop the legal fight and take much of the unknown out of the equation - who knows what Davidson will do with the property if he is successful in court.

Still, this group will not be easily persuaded to acquiesce.

Last week The IND obtained a copy of a letter written by attorney Gary McGoffin and forwarded to approximately 25 Girard Park residents. The attorney is representing the neighborhood's property owners in this legal battle. (McGoffin, who did not supply the letter, is also The IND's attorney.)

McGoffin declined to comment on the matter, because the meeting referenced in the letter did not take place.

McGoffin says he has not yet had an opportunity to brief his clients on the proposed plan to develop the property as living units for Lafayette General Medical Center's interns and residents. He said the meeting with residents has been moved to Wednesday, May 1, at 7 p.m. It is not a public meeting.

The letter reads:

It appears that a practical solution to the Davidson litigation is at hand. The Dwight Andrus family development company has an agreement to acquire and develop the Davidson property into 63 residential units to house interns and residents for Lafayette General. This would conform with the existing residential restrictions in the Covenant at issue with Davidson.

Part of the impetus for this is Lafayette General's plan to assume operation of the University Medical Center which will result in LG becoming a teaching hospital and a Level 2 trauma center.
In order to present the plans to our neighborhood group, Andrus will secure meeting space at the Petroleum Club on Thursday, April 18, beginning at 7 p.m. They will be able to show the site plan and conceptions of the final build out including the existing landscaping. In addition, the intersection of Girard Park Drive and Hospital Drive will be improved with a roundabout along with improvements to the sight fence for the Medical Office Building parking lot.

I have already met with the Andrus representatives, [LGMC President and CEO] David Callecod and Davidson's attorney to discuss the contractual and zoning details to preserve the residential character of the park neighborhood and preservation of the Covenant. We will discuss those details as well as the overall plan.

Please invite our neighborhood group to the meeting with the Andrus representatives and Mr. Callecod on behalf of the hospital. Mr. Davidson will not be present nor will his attorneys.

One Girard Park homeowner interviewed for this story, who asked not to be identified, says there are still too many unknowns about the proposal. Will it open the door for more commercial intrusion? How will 63 additional living units impact traffic in the neighborhood? Will the design fit the fabric of the neighborhood?

Photo by Robin May

Despite assurances in a 1984 legal document, the Girard Park neighborhood did not get a "solid hedge, or other suitable barrier in order to minimize the effect of parked cars on the view from Girard Park Drive."

The property owner was also quick to point out that after residents gave into a rezoning request from LGMC in the mid-1980s, the hospital did not uphold its assurance to adequately buffer with a "solid hedge, or other suitable barrier in order to minimize the effect of parked cars on the view from Girard Park Drive" its professional office building on Girard Park Drive. Despite that residents were given assurances of the buffer in a 1984 legal document, the residents have long felt as though they have no recourse to demand the buffer.

"No one is willing to quit yet," the homeowner says of the battle to keep the covenant in place. "We just feel like we're being bullied again."

"I think it's great the lines of communication are open and we are trying to do some problem-solving," says Girard Park resident Tim Allis. "But I have a lot of questions, and I think my neighbors have a lot of questions, too."

Reed Andrus of Dwight Andrus Real Estate said he is preparing for the meeting with residents and declined to comment on the proposed development at this time.

The development, of course, is contingent on the success of LGMC's takeover of UMC, which is all but a done deal. The governor has made it clear that he won't seek legislative approval for this effort to privatize all but one of the state's public hospitals that care for the poor and uninsured around the state and serve as training hospitals for many medical students.

Photo by Robin May

A development proposed by the Dwight Andrus family aims to turn attorney Jimmy Davidson's Girard Park acreage into living units for interns and residents at LGMC. Property owners who have long fought commercial development of the acreage will have an opportunity to see the plans and ask questions in a private meeting Wednesday, May 1.

LGMC's Callecod was tied up with that transaction Monday and Tuesday and unavailable for comment.

For Allis, the issue of what kind of protection a covenant provides to a neighborhood is still burning. "I have gone back and forth time and again with the question of what is the value of covenant and are covenants so easily discarded," he says. "No one has proven to me that this covenant deserves to crumble. Where does one individual, who wants to max out property value, get to rewrite the texture and identity of a whole neighborhood? What does this do down the road? There are days when I ask myself, Why is the onus on us?'"