Sterlington Mayor Caesar Velasquez

In an apparent about face, the Sterlington Town Council agreed to amend an ordinance that would clear any obstacles to the Ouachita Parish School Board buying acreage in the town for a new middle school.

Acting during its regular meeting Tuesday night, the Town Council unanimously adopted the ordinance changes needed to advance the Sterlington Middle School project and adjourned its meeting minutes later. No one spoke before voting on the matter.

The School Board plans to spend about $1.2 million to buy 40 acres from Monroe businessman Eddie Hakim and spend about $18 million building a new Sterlington Middle School on the property. The proposed middle school site lies off Keystone Road, across from Sterlington High School.

Previously, Town Council members Zack Howse, Brian McCarthy and Matt Talbert questioned approving an amendment to the town’s alcohol ordinance that would allow churches and schools to waive the legal requirement that any business selling packaged liquor be established 300 feet or more away from them. The Town Council’s questions stemmed from concerns about Sterlington’s cooperative endeavor agreement with Hakim, they said. Under the cooperative endeavor agreement, Sterlington agreed to reimburse Hakim for up to $4.5 million in infrastructure work to his acreage if he developed the property and generated the same amount in sales tax and property tax revenues.

After the meeting, when asked about why their position changed, Talbert said, “It’s the right thing to do to get the middle school project going.”

“We are just allowing these churches and schools to decide whether to issue a waiver,” Talbert said. “We’re not issuing any waivers ourselves.”

Howse voiced his agreement with Talbert’s remarks.

At the meeting, School Board member Greg Manley thanked the Town Council for its decision.

“We are pleased that the Sterlington Town Council voted to waive the alcohol ordinance requirement relative to the land where the new Sterlington Middle School will be located,” Manley told The Ouachita Citizen after the meeting. “We are looking forward to finalizing the buy/sale agreement with Mr. Hakim on the 40 acres of land for the new Sterlington Middle School. We are excited about this location and are ready to move forward with the construction of this new school.”

Manley attended the Town Council’s meeting with Monroe attorney Elmer Noah, who is the School Board’s legal counsel.

After the meeting, Mayor Caesar Velasquez said the Town Council’s decision was a “step in a positive direction.”

“This will help the parents, especially those who have children at all three Sterlington schools, because they can just make a circle between each school,” Velasquez said.

According to Velasquez, the town’s former alcohol ordinance made it difficult for businesses to operate.

“Just about every retail outlet nowadays sells packaged liquor,” he said.

Velasquez said he looked forward to seeing which major retailers Hakim might attract to the property.

“This is good for economic development,” he said.

Sterlington’s agreement with Hakim does not require the town to issue a one-time $4.5-million check to Hakim as reimbursement for any work he does — regardless of whether the property lies empty or is developed. Instead, Sterlington would reimburse Hakim up to $4.5 million only if the property was developed to generate tax revenues for the payments.

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