Acadiana Business

‘Favorably received'

by Walter Pierce

A recently unveiled plan for the Davidson property near Girard Park may settle a long-running dispute and help LGMC meet its growth potential.

This view of the proposed development is from Girard Park Drive overlooking the roundabout.
(The edge of Girard Park is to the left.)

After years of squabbling and legal battles with breakaway property owner Jimmy Davidson, coupled with recent weeks of uncertainty, Girard Park residents finally got to hear and see plans for an apartment complex planned for 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.

At a Wednesday-night meeting at the Petroleum Club, neighbors saw architectural renderings depicting 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 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 an attractive, leafy development with modern 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, with 63 units ranging from one to three bedrooms, will be rented by LGMC and reserved 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.

Early indications are that, while cautious after so many years of acrimony, the Girard Park neighbors are greeting the new development receptively.

"My impression of the discussion last night was that it was generally favorably received," says Gary McGoffin, the attorney representing the Girard Park residents. "We've specifically agreed that we are going to hold a separate meeting afterwards to let everybody digest it and talk with their other neighbors, and we should have that within the next week."

At that next meeting of the Girard Park neighbors, McGoffin tells ABiz, will be discussion of the major impediment to sealing the deal and allowing the Andruses to move forward with developing the property: 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.

But it likely won't come to that, McGoffin says, with some caveats: "They have a couple of concerns; one is, they've incurred a substantial amount of cost in preserving the covenant, which has preserved the residential character of the area around the park. Mr. Davidson is going to receive a substantial amount of money in this transaction. They are going to make a request that their fees be reimbursed," McGoffin explains. "Number two, they're quite concerned from the perspective of both the covenant and the zoning of the property, that they want to make sure that this transaction would not undermine the continued validity of the covenant, which has been in place since 1940 and upon which they all rely."

In other words, neighbors want to make sure that sealing the deal with the Andruses doesn't in any way jeopardize the covenant's residential stipulation and open the door to future incursions by commercial developments.

The Andruses applied for zoning changes to the property on Wednesday. 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. The project also includes plans for a landscaped roundabout at the intersection of Hospital and Girard Park drives.

"It's a very, very positive development for that particular site and for the intersection of Hospital Drive with Girard Park Drive," McGoffin adds.

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."