Tempers flare at Metro Council over Rouzan, garbage contracts

Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe lost his temper with opponents of the Rouzan subdivision, engaging in a tense public standoff with an attorney representing those fighting against the development.

It was one of a handful of heated disagreements that arose during Wednesday’s Metro Council meeting, which included Mayor-President Kip Holden going head-to-head with Councilman Ryan Heck over a multimillion-dollar trash collection contract.

The Rouzan issued involved a request to rezone the development to Traditional Neighborhood Development, a designation that allows for smaller lot sizes and a combination of single-family homes, multifamily units and commercial properties.

In March, an appeals court sided with two property owners who claimed the property was improperly zoned as TND, a ruling that changed the entire development to A-1 residential.

The council subsequently amended the TND obligations by dropping the requirement that a developer prove his or her “control of the entire area.” That amendment allows the council to rezone Rouzan back to TND, despite the ruling in the lawsuit.

Developer Tommy Spinosa told the council that 40 property owners in the area were being held in limbo by the recent zoning confusion.

“I’ve got families who can’t close their loans; they can’t get title insurance,” Spinosa said. “It’s a financial nightmare.”

Residents opposing the development and their attorney, Alex St. Amant, blamed the council for problems created by the court ruling, and threatened to personally sue the council members.

Loupe said he was offended by the threats to sue him and frustrated by their disregard for the 40 property owners whose properties are in flux.

“What is your end game?” Loupe pointedly asked St. Amant. “You act like you’re a poor lawyer up there, but you’re getting paid for this litigation. What do you want me to do? I have 40 people who have houses in that subdivision who can’t close or get mortgage insurance.”

St. Amant said he wants the council to enforce the law. Loupe noted that allowing the A-1 residential zoning to stand would mean the other houses in Rouzan would be out of compliance with the law.

“According to you, I’d have to tear out all the houses (in Rouzan) that have already been built because they’re not conforming to A-1 residential,” Loupe said.

St. Amant responded it was “not our problem,” and suggested Spinosa pay the property owners for their damages.

The Metro Council initially voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the rezoning. However, they later revisited the vote and opted to defer the item until May 14 because of a mistake in the legal advertisement, requiring them to readvertise the action.

Councilman John Delgado, whose district includes Rouzan, said he fully expects the item to be unanimously approved in May.

The Metro Council also debated a garbage collection contract worth more than $100 million over the next five years.

Heck and other council members took issue with the administration’s decision to award the contract to BFI Waste Services without publishing a request for proposals, which is an invitation for businesses to compete for a contract. BFI’s 10-year contract with the city-parish ends this year.

Heck said he understood the administration’s desire to have continuity in service.

“But what I don’t want to avoid is cost savings,” he said. “Five years is another $100 million. This is a $100 million decision.”

He also said he didn’t feel comfortable approving contracts that would extend into a future mayor’s term, which lit a fire under Holden.

The mayor fired back, noting that sewer contracts, the Green Light Plan and financial obligations to secure economic development projects will all exceed his mayoral term, which extends through 2016.

“This is not an unusual item request,” Holden stressed. “Ask anybody that’s dealing with contracts from public entities. What we’re asking you for today is the same thing that happens at every level of government.”

The council approved about $50,000 in recent weeks to pay a consultant to put out a request for proposals for the contract, but Public Works Director David Guillory said they opted to stay with BFI because it became clear that the company had the best prices.

He said the rates Baton Rouge enjoys, $12.88 per house for twice-a-week pick up, already are cheaper than rates in most cities.

“Once we started looking around the state and country at prices for cities our size, we realized that the prices we have here are much more competitive,” Guillory said. “Cities like El Paso and Tampa are paying much more than we do for once-a-week service.”

The council ultimately voted to defer the item for two weeks.

Heck said he might support a two-year contract, but beyond that he still wants the contract to be put out for an request for proposals.