Walter Pierce

re: Murphree's Law

by Walter Pierce

When before the council, brevity is the soul of wit  I got a good dose of democracy last week. It was excruciating. All the redundant yammering from the blue card brigade addressing the Lafayette Consolidated Council about this dire matter and that — supplication, imprecation, sis boom bah! It’s enough to make one long for oligarchy.

I was there because the council was hearing Olde Tyme Grocery owner Glenn Murphree’s appeal of a Planning and Zoning Commission refusal to rezone a lot he owns next to his store in Elmhurst Park subdivision from residential to commercial, which would allow him to use it as a pay parking lot, which he was doing anyway. Elmhurst residents turned out en masse to oppose the measure, crying commercial encroachment and pointing to a compact struck in 1994 between the city and Elmhurst prohibiting such reclassifications.

I lived in Elmhurst in the late ’80s when I was an undergrad at UL, back before the compact and ensuing gentrification of the neighborhood. (If you live at 306-A Calder St. and are reading this, look inside the closet above the door facing the bathroom.) There were a lot of duplexes at the time, a lot of college students, a lot of parties late into the night, a lot of fun. I put on my “freshman 15” sauntering the one block from my apartment to Olde Tyme for roast beef poboys and potato chips.

I went into the council meeting pulling for the no-rezoners. I walked out wishing a plague of termites and Chinese dry wall upon their leafy urban paradise. Not because I was swayed by the testimonials in favor of Murphree — “He likes babies.” “He’s a swell feller.” — but because the no-rezoners blew it. It’s bad strategy turning what should have been an hour-long discussion and vote into three and a half hours while the LSU baseball Tigers are playing for a national championship; plea after meticulous plea from the no-rezoners, two of them lawyers, two of them professors, others whose occupations were unknown to me, and nearly half of them wagging a condescending finger at the council as if it were a bunch of naive freshmen fidgeting through an orientation. One no-rezoner grandiosely suggested that voting in favor of Murphree would erode the rule of law.

I knew the no-rezoners had lost when, following an amendment to the ordinance, Chairman Purvis Morrison asked if anyone wished to address the council concerning the amendment — this is a good two hours and 15 minutes into the hearing — and a half dozen no-rezoners got up to go fill out blue cards. Even I — ostensibly an impartial media observer — let fly an audible “sheesh,” prompting a no-rezoner nearby to bestow upon me an evil eye, briefly wilting my mojo.

I still think the council made the wrong decision, but probably because of my sentimental attachment to Elmhurst. The outcome doesn’t bode well for residents along Camellia Boulevard clutching a promise of their own from a previous council stipulating that the speed limit between Johnston and Kaliste Saloom will forever be 35 miles per hour, which is grandmotherly low and now being “reviewed” by the traffic department.

If traffic recommends raising the speed limit, there will no doubt be a repeat of last week’s council meeting. I will not be there.