BR annexation request could cut land off from St. George

Requests whittle land from proposed city of St. George

If the Baton Rouge Metro Council approves annexing a 630-acre stretch of land in the southwest part of the parish into the city of Baton Rouge, it will cut the proposed city of St. George off from more than 5 square miles of land to the west that was intended to be a part of the new city.

“That tract being annexed now cuts off 3,500 acres on the left (west) of the tract from any possibility of being incorporated,” said Baton Rouge attorney Mary Olive Pierson, who was hired by the city-parish to assist in annexation issues.

A petition submitted earlier this week by Charles Lambert seeks annexation into the city of Baton Rouge for his property, which is located in what is currently the proposed city of St. George. That parcel of land stretches from the southern boundary of the city of Baton Rouge straight down to the parish line, cutting right through the proposed new city.

The boundaries of a city, generally speaking, must be contiguous.

Lionel Rainey, St. George spokesman, said lawyers for his group are reviewing the parcel boundaries to determine the potential impact of the annexation.

“You are seeing the definition of bad government,” Rainey said. “These moves don’t help the city or the parish in any way. This is just another attempt to prevent this from coming to a vote. And like every other attempt, it’s not going to work.”

In the event St. George was to become a city, the land west of Lambert’s parcel — which is largely undeveloped — would remain unincorporated unless it was eventually annexed by the city of Baton Rouge.

Within the 3,500 acres of land that would be cut off from St. George are 300 acres that a separate group of property owners petitioned this week to join the city of Baton Rouge.

A group petition for annexation was submitted to the Metro Council office late Wednesday afternoon by the owners of Live Oak Stables Inc., The Baton Rouge Water Company, and a group that includes Prescott Foster Bailey, James J. Bailey II, Virginia Palfrey Bailey Noland, Claude Reynaud Jr., Charles Lane and The Cottage Inc.

Reynaud is a partner with the Baton Rouge law firm of Breazeale, Sachse and Wilson, which frequently does work for the city-parish.

“The legal, fiscal and practical problems with the proposed new city are daunting and somewhat scary for the entire parish,” Reynaud said in an email. “Baton Rouge is far from perfect, but it is home and the way to solve challenges is from within, not dividing the parish.”

Pierson said the recent annexations are an indication that many land owners are uncomfortable with being roped into the uncertainty of a new city.

“These annexations should have taken place decades ago, but they weren’t done because of inertia. What’s the point?” she said. “Then when St. George threw a line around these people, they woke up and said, ‘Wait a minute, we don’t want to be in St. George.’ ”

Hays Owen, spokesman for the Baton Rouge Water Company, said the decision to petition for annexation was rooted in its business relationship with the city of Baton Rouge.

“We have been the water provider for the city since 1888,” Owen said. “In keeping with our franchise agreement, we certainly support what the city is doing.”

The land included in the most recent petition abuts River Road and is west of the 630-acre parcel of land Lambert owns that was submitted for annexation earlier this week.

All of the land submitted this week for annexations is vacant.

The Metro Council is expected to vote on both annexations at its July 23 meeting.

Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe, whose district encompasses the recent petitioners, said officials opposing the St. George movement are strategically annexing properties.

“All of the annexations are being done for a specific goal,” he said. “It just seems like they are playing Legos with the city map, and I’m not sure that is in anyone’s best interest, including those that live in the city limits.”

In recent months, the city-parish has also brought in through annexations Celtic Studios, Costco, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, Baton Rouge General Medical Center and the Mall of Louisiana.

However, Woody Jenkins, former legislator and newspaper owner, is challenging the annexations of Baton Rouge General and the mall because he claims the boundaries were unreasonably drawn and violate local and state procedures. His lawsuit is still pending at the 19th Judicial District Court.

“This isn’t people running to the city,” Rainey said. “It’s the Baton Rouge ruling class trying to stop people from being able to decide this at the polls.”

Pierson admitted Baton Rouge officials are “very actively helping those people who want to be annexed.”

“I’m surprised the people in St. George are acting like that’s a bad thing,” Pierson said. “It would be silly for the city not to be doing that.”

William Daniel, chief administrative officer for Mayor-President Kip Holden, said there is no cost to the city-parish to annex the properties for increased fire or police protection, because the properties are vacant.

But while the land is vacant today, Daniel said, the owners are looking ahead to potential future development and are concerned about the impact should their property fall within the boundaries of St. George.

“They realize there will likely be a massive tax increase in the St. George area, and they don’t want to be a cash cow for that,” Daniel said.

Daniel said he expects additional petitions for annexations to be filed in the future.

Larry Bankston, executive director of the Baton Rouge Growth Coalition, said he’s not personally heard concerns expressed by developers about being in St. George. But, he said, developers are generally concerned about stability.

“The No. 1 concern of all people that develop property is predictability and understanding the rules of the game,” he said. “What do I have to do to get a permit? How much is it going to cost?”

The new city of St. George would have its own planning and zoning department.

Organizers hoping to create the future city of St. George in East Baton Rouge Parish are still gathering signatures to put the proposal to a vote before the end of the year.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz.