Walter Pierce

re: Strange Bedfellows

by Walter Pierce

A council vote last week demonstrated it can be an unpredictable body. I had to double check my tally twice: 5-4. It’s not an uncommon vote by the Lafayette City-Parish Council. In fact, it’s downright simple, as in simple majority. But the distribution of the votes had my eyebrows hovering near my hairline, which at 43 is thankfully something of which I’m still capable. The vote, following more than two typically grueling hours of public comment at the Nov. 24 council meeting, dashed the collective hope of more than 150 residents in rural west Lafayette Parish who had appealed a Planning & Zoning office decision to grant a preliminary plat approval for a new subdivision, Woodgate, on Tabb Road. In short, the residents wanted the council to undo what Planning had done. As we learned in the Elmhurst Park versus Olde Tyme Grocery fracas last summer, the council is not averse to overriding the Planning department.

Although the CPC has at times settled into a predictable Republican-versus-Democrat, north side-versus-south side dynamic, the vote on the 24th demonstrated that the council can be more complex and harder to predict.

Voting against the residents were Democrats Jay Castille, Brandon Shelvin and Kenneth Boudreaux along with Republicans Keith Patin and Don Bertrand. An equally odd political potpourri sided with the residents: Republicans William Theriot, Sam Doré and Jared Bellard joining Democrat Purvis Morrison.

It’s simplistic to say Democrats always side with the little guy and Republicans with business, but just barely. This vote, however, created some strange bedfellows. A majority of Dems voted Goliath and a majority of Republicans cast their lot with David.

Bertrand, a conservative with curiously longish blond hair, tried to turn the debate into a discussion — and he was dead-on doing so — about Lafayette’s idiotic lack of comprehensive zoning. Even St. Martin, quaint but decidedly po-dunk relative to our more urbane parish, has comprehensive zoning. It ensures that growth is smart. Let me rephrase that: It ensures that growth isn’t stupid, that hog farms don’t sprout up next to daycare centers or that paint and body shops don’t pop up in the middle of neighborhoods.

Lafayette’s attitude about zoning has long trended pioneer: It’s my land, I’ve staked my claim, I’ll do as I damn well please. Lafayette Consolidated Government has done a pretty good job of policing progress within the city limits over the last couple of decades. But out in the unincorporated parts of the parish it’s still just that: unincorporated and laissez faire. It’s why there are borrow pits big enough to lay two Louisiana State Capitols in looming mere yards away from residential developments between Carencro and Lafayette. As the attorney for the Woodgate developer put it — dismissively — at the council meeting last week: “This is basically useless property. It’s nothing but chicken trees and undergrowth.”

Digging a little deeper, the vote had its reasons for shaking out the way it did. Democrat Castille is also a developer and his sympathies clearly fall toward his kindred. Morrison and Bellard, on the other side of the vote and on opposite sides of the political aisle, represent the residents who were seeking to block the subdivision. They were voting the will of their constituents.

As for Brandon Shelvin and Don Bertrand winding up on the same side of an issue — that amplifies my suspicion that these are indeed the end times.