Leslie Turk

Horse farm bill clears House 95-2

by Leslie Turk

The state House of Representatives approved, by a 95-2 vote, the sale of the UL horse farm property to the Community Foundation of Acadiana for development as a passive recreational park. The only dissenting votes were Reps. Sam Little of Bastrop and Jerry “Truck” Gisclair of Larose, who think the university should get more than the $5.7 million an anonymous donor is paying to make the park a reality. The measure now heads to the Senate.

The $5.7 million price tag is based on a state-approved professional appraiser’s valuation of 87.79 acres of developable land in the 100-acre tract; his appraisal indicates that the residentially classified property is worth about $65,000 an acre. Roughly 7.4 acres in the back of the property will be swapped with the city for the 8-acre Youth Park near UL’s campus in back of the Johnston Street fire station. It’s a 400-foot by 800-foot easement necessary for the city to clean out the coulee to ensure water flow and was not included in the appraisal because it is not developable land.

The coulee, however, and the property alongside it will likely be incorporated into the park development. “It could be a water element of some sort; it will become part of the park,” UL President Joe Savoie says. “Instead of going through the financial transaction, we can just do a swap. The only thing we may be losing on is the coulee; it’s 2 acres. It’s not worth fighting about.” The land-swap in part fulfills the university’s need to acquire property closer to campus for expansion; Savoie also plans to use the proceeds to purchase additional undisclosed properties near UL.

Youth Park appraised for $450,000, and the back acreage along the coulee is worth about $455,000 based on the appraiser’s valuation of the horse farm.

Savoie says response to the deal and proposal to develop a passive recreational park of open spaces with walking and bike trails (which means no organized sports) has overwhelming support across the state. “It’s all positive, not a single negative — other than Harold Schoeffler.”

There is also now somewhat of a time frame on development of the park. State Rep. Joel Robideaux, who authored HB 853 at the university’s request, has agreed to amend his bill to state that if the land is not developed as a park in 10 years it will revert to the university.