The Sterlington Town Council signed off on a 20-year variance, or exception to the town’s building ordinances, last week that allowed a local businessman to use metal siding in the construction of new shops.
Sterlington’s building codes forbade metal sides for new structures inside the town, though Greg Wilson, who owns the shops on U.S. Hwy 165, gained permission through a variance from the town’s Planning and Zoning board.
Most of the Town Council’s members viewed Wilson’s appeal for a variance with favor. Sterlington Mayor Caesar Velasquez, however, opposed the approval of a variance under a strict interpretation of the town’s ordinances.
“You didn’t follow the protocol,” Velasquez said.
The buildings are nearly built and Wilson is seeking a certificate of occupancy so he can open next month. Without approval from the Town Council, Wilson could not obtain the certificate of occupancy.
Wilson explained he believed he was following the town’s ordinances during the construction of the building.
“Guys, I get it. I get that you want good-looking buildings around here,” Wilson said. “If I had been told up front that I needed to make some changes, I could have done it then. But once you got a building built, you can’t just go add to it. He’s asking me to cover the sides with some kind of covering to meet ordinances. It would cost me about $10 a square foot.”
Several Town Council members voiced support for Wilson’s appeal, though some spoke more guardedly than others in light of Velasquez’s staunch opposition to the appeal.
For example, Town Council member Ron Hill said he did not believe the town should return at the 11th hour and require the business owner to spend $30,000.
Town Council member Matt Talbert, speaking in support of Wilson’s appeal, pointed out that the town’s ordinances were not readily available online for locals to see. Talbert’s point provoked a stern response from Velasquez, who argued that any resident could freely view the town’s ordinances by visiting Sterlington Town Hall.
Town Council member Zack Howse pointed out that several other businesses in Sterlington had obtained permission to use metal sides. He listed several and pointed out each building was built after the adoption of the ordinance prohibiting metal siding.
“He’s not being allowed to open his business,” said Howse, speaking to Velasquez. “If I’m a businessman and I bring you plans that show metal sidings on the building, they [Planning and Zoning] approved it twice. You built it. Now that it’s built and you got an issue with it.”
According to Wilson, he had appealed the matter to the Planning and Zoning board (which had deferred the matter for the Town Council to decide) because Velasquez sent him a text message saying no certificate of occupancy would be issued.
“That’s what started all this,” Wilson said. “With all due respect.”
Sterlington Police Chief Barry Bonner also weighed in, defending Wilson’s appeal by referring to the purpose of the town’s ordinances.
I think what they’re saying is to stop somebody from putting up some junk metal shed.
What this man has out there is a fine, professional building. I mean, I know the sides are metals, but the front looks good. I think the Planning and Zoning would look like and say, ‘Yeah, that looks good.’
Bonner noted that future development could help conceal the building’s metal sides.
“We’re arguing about something – this man is about to bring business into town, tax dollars,” Bonner said.
Town Council member Benjamin Hobson added his opinion, too.
“Most people don’t know what’s in the city limits and what isn’t,” Hobson said. “How could we judge his, when it will look much better than the buildings next to it that aren’t in the city limits?”
Howse, Hill and Hobson voted in favor of the 20-year variance for Wilson. Talbert abstained from the vote. Town Council member Brian McCarthy was absent.