Mary Tutwiler

Zoning fight looming in Breaux Bridge

by Mary Tutwiler

Residents of Breaux Bridge’s historic downtown are gathering for a showdown tonight at the first public hearing of the city’s proposed zoning ordinance. With the exponential growth to the small Bayou Teche town, from 3,000 to 8,000 residents over the past 10 years, and the opening up of Rees Street, which is the commercial corridor to I-10, the town was under pressure from developers. Mayor Jack Dale Delhomme commissioned Dr. Dennis Ehrhardt, a geography professor from UL, to update the town’s antiquated zoning ordinance. It was published recently and is now up for public comment.

What has caused a tempest among downtown residents and business owners is the extremely narrow set of permitted uses allowed in the historic downtown area (see p. 23 of the ordinance). The biggest cause of concern, says downtown resident Josh Caffery, is that housing, like his own, is not permitted in the downtown under the new ordinance. “The city, for some unfathomable reason, is trying to rezone the downtown into an exclusively commercial district--a plan that flies in the face of all current thinking about how to maintain vital downtown communities,” he says. Cafe Des Amis owner Dickie Breaux was equally incensed when he read the ordinance, and went to give a piece of his mind to the mayor. “You mean to tell me I can’t live over my business?” he says.

Delhomme says that zoning out residential use was an oversight on Ehrhardt’s part, and that the public hearing is designed to allow comments, which will be incorporated into the ordinance. Other businesses or functions that the ordinance has zoned out of the historic district include bars, bicycle shops, neighborhood markets, farmers markets, furniture stores, hardware stores, health food stores, liquor stores, music and or musical equipment stores, office supplies, pet supplies, tobacco shops, barber shops, dry cleaners, health clubs, laundromats and movie theatres-- all components of a viable downtown, says Caffery.

“Here we are, the living model of a mixed use downtown, the kind of model places like River Ranch are emulating, and they’re trying to zone it out of existence?” says Caffery. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

The zoning commission meets tonight at 6 p.m. at Breaux Bridge City Hall.