Ascension zoning panel OKs Wal-Mart No. 4, rejects tennis club

Ascension Parish planning and zoning commissioners have rejected for a second time in nearly two years a controversial private tennis club near Airline Highway over traffic concerns, but granted an early nod to the parish’s fourth Wal-Mart.

The 16-court center named Bonne Esperance Tennis Club, meaning “Good Hope,” encountered strong public opposition and a petition signed by all 11 Parish Council members opposing the project. The Parish Council appoints the commissioners.

The proposed 41,000-square-foot Neighborhood Market, a smaller-scale version of Wal-Mart’s typical stores, would be built on a 6.2-acre site on the southeast corner of the La. 42/La. 44 intersection in the Praireiville area, plans show.

Ricky Galloway, who is with Duplantis Design Group and represents Wal-Mart, told the commission during its meeting Wednesday night that a gasoline station also would be built at the site. He offered no time line for construction.

The 34-acre tennis court site would have been situated along Bayou Manchac and Airline Highway and north of old Perkins Road in the northern end of the parish in the rear of several subdivisions.

The project’s initial phase would not have had access to Airline, but its main entrance would have been through Perkins Oaks Drive, a 20-foot-wide neighborhood road with ditches and no sidewalks.

Residents cited concerns about traffic in and out of the tennis complex via Perkins Oaks, a street where children play and walk every day.

Citing traffic and other concerns in late 2011, the Parish Council rejected a zoning change for a similar but more expansive proposal, when primary access to Airline was promised and a major clubhouse and restaurant with alcohol sales were proposed.

Under methods in the parish code that did not require a zoning change, developer Randy Dornier Jr. returned to the commission with a scaled-down version of the project featuring a small, 1,200-square-foot clubhouse primarily for setting up tennis lessons and restringing rackets as a first phase.

Dornier wanted to use a contract agreement with the parish that would have allowed the private tennis club to open for business on the residentially zoned site. The code allows this type of agreement for public or private recreational facilities in residential zones.

Ricky Compton, parish planning and development director, told commissioners that Dornier could not do anything more on the site than what the contract allows.

Dornier told the commissioners later that if he gains access from Airline, he would seek a rezoning and use Perkins Oaks only for emergency access.

Meeting as the Zoning Commission, the development review panel rejected the project 6-0 in a final vote, citing safety concerns raised by residents.

State highway officials are planning a major widening of La. 42 where the new Wal-Mart is proposed. La. 42 is a key but congested connector in the Prairieville area.

Meeting as the joint Planning and Zoning Commission, the parish review board, in two 6-0 votes, backed the proposed Wal-Mart plans as well as a related, needed zoning change from crossroads commercial to a small planned unit development.

The Parish Council must still grant final approval.