Southdowns rezoning request withdrawn

Developer Ben Skillman’s attorney withdrew a controversial request Tuesday to rezone a residential property at Perkins Road and Stuart Avenue for medical office use.

Attorney Randy Roussel submitted a letter to the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council asking to withdraw the request just before the council was about to take it up at its monthly zoning meeting..

The city-parish Planning Commission had already rejected the rezoning request by a vote of 7-1 at a meeting where about 100 residents attended to oppose the measure. Residents have cited concerned that the “spot rezoning” would contribute to the encroachment of commercial development in the residential neighborhoods south of Perkins Road.

The Metro Council’s vote would have superseded the Planning Commission vote.

Roussel said in an interview after the meeting that it was evident the council agreed with the Southdowns residents who opposed the measure.

He said the developer already has an engineering firm working on an alternative plan that they intend to propose to the planning commission and Metro Council for consideration after the holidays.

The developer will work with the neighbors and hopes to have more consensus when he proposes the alternate plan, Roussel said. William Gladney, president of the Southside Civic Association, called the withdrawal of the rezoning request “a big win for the home team.”

He added, “We will always have to be vigilant on the south side of Perkins, but this is a really big day for us.”

Gladney said the request was contrary to the newly adopted FutureBR landuse plan, which identified the area as residential.

“The Southside Civic Association endorsed FutureBR,” Gladney said. “Within one year, and the ink wasn’t even dry, they were trying to change FutureBR land use.”

Roussel said he still believes the initial request was consistent with FutureBR.

He said FutureBR recognizes the “difficulty in transition areas” like the street front of Perkins Road. The location is considered transitional, Roussel has said, because Perkins Road is a busy, five-lane highway that is sometimes difficult to sell to residential buyers.

The property, which would have been zoned Infill Small Planned Unit Development, would have maintained its residential aesthetic while serving a commercial purpose, Roussel had said. He also has noted that the property was on the market for 18 months.

Roussel wouldn’t comment as to whether the buyer, who intended to use the property for a psychiatrist’s office, had backed out or would be involved in the modified plan.

Gladney said he agrees that property abutting Perkins Road may be less desirable for residential buyers and said he’d be interested in having “broader discussions of planned area developments.”

“But spot rezonings create rag-tag developments,” Gladney said.

Carole Anne Brown, a Southdowns resident, said the residents are willing to work with Skillman on alternative ideas.

“He can come back and talk with us,” she said. “If Mr. Skillman wants to do a residential ISPUD, we’d love to be involved and we’d love to support him.”