Sterlington Mayor Caesar Velasquez listens

The Sterlington Planning & Zoning Commission agreed earlier this week to oppose a rezoning request from Standard Enterprises Inc. to build a low-income housing project in the town’s old village area.

Since last November, Standard Enterprises has sought the approval of the Sterlington Town Council to rezone town property for a 26-unit townhome development.

The Town Council is expected to consider the Planning & Zoning Commission’s recommendation at its regular meeting on Tuesday. The Planning & Zoning Commission’s vote was unanimous.

Standard Enterprises’ rezoning request has bounced between the Town Council and Planning & Zoning Commission as members of each body faced protests from residents who say they fear the housing project would establish a hub of criminal activity.

Specifically, Standard Enterprises has asked town officials to rezone property as R-2 (low density residential) so the company could build a new development through the government’s low-income housing tax credit program, or Section 42 housing program.

Standard Enterprises owns and manages several housing developments in Ouachita Parish, including Parkview Apartments in Monroe. Sterlington residents have frequently referred to numerous arrests and shootings at Parkview Apartments as the basis for their opposition to any Standard Enterprises development in their town.

Though several town officials have voiced agreement with residents’ concern about crime, several officials interviewed by The Ouachita Citizen said they could not consider the rezoning request because of poor drainage and sewer infrastructure near Standard Enterprises’ proposed site.

Mayor Caesar Velasquez suggested the cost of repairing sewer infrastructure in the old village area—to accommodate a townhome development—could be immense.

“The planning and zoning commission made a decision on the zoning request based on information available on infrastructure issues and costs to remediate,” Velasquez said. “Until testing is completed, a dollar value cannot be determined for corrective actions.”

Town Council member Matt Talbert echoed the complaint about faulty sewer infrastructure.

“When you look at the sewer infrastructure in that area it was put in during the 1950s,” Talbert said. “We just completed a smoke test that showed over 50 issues. We are waiting on a report to put together a plan to address those issues. That along with the other concerns are the reason I believe P&Z made the right call.”

Town Council member Zack Howse, who voiced support for the project at the Planning & Zoning Commission’s meeting, acknowledged the “infiltration spots” revealed by the smoke test of the old village area’s sewer infrastructure.

Howse, though, questioned whether his colleagues’ reference to poor sewer infrastructure accurately represented the source of their opposition.

“It seems like this is the only property with problems,” Howse said. “People say they don’t want ‘baby mamas and drama’ or for the town to become the ‘hood,’ and that makes it hard for me to understand the complaint that this is about drainage.”

Howse said he recognized he was “fighting a losing battle” by supporting the rezoning request but maintained his support as reflective of constituents who also supported the project.

“Sitting in that meeting last night, it’s hard to hear, ‘We don’t want those people here,’ from people who own rental properties,” Howse said. “Is the argument they don’t want competition? There are mixed messages. I think everybody deserves the opportunity to live where they want. I don’t think government should price people out of the town.”

Town Council member Ron Hill, who noted he was not present to hear the Planning & Zoning Commission’s deliberations, said Standard Enterprises’ rezoning request was a “moot point.”

“Until considerations of drainage and policing and manpower are addressed, I don’t think it should proceed,” Hill said. “From that point of view, I think Planning and Zoning made the right decision.”

According to Hill, residents near the proposed housing development site had objected to the rezoning request.

Like residents, Hill said he also had concerns about Standard Enterprises’ ability to provide security.

“You can look at other Standard Enterprises developments where security is an issue,” Hill said.

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