The four candidates for East Baton Rouge Parish mayor-president and the three candidates for the District 12 Metro Council seat made their views known on a variety of South Baton Rouge controversies at a forum Wednesday night sponsored by a group of civic associations.
The seven candidates, who will face off in their respective races in the Nov. 6 primary, took sides on region-specific issues including the Rouzan traditional neighborhood development, allowing commercial development to creep south of Perkins Road and expanding the heavily trafficked Lee Drive.
But it was self-described “long shot” mayoral candidate Steve Myers, no party, usually known for cracking jokes at forums, who commanded much of the attention at the candidate forum for angry comments directed at residents who attended the forum at St. Aloysius Catholic Church.
Myers, a property manager, took aim at the residents in his opening remarks, noting that he’s defending himself in four court cases in the Southdowns area, because he rented homes to groups of unrelated students, which is a violation of city-parish ordinance.
Protecting private property rights is a cornerstone of Myers’ mayoral platform.
“I won’t be driven out of this neighborhood,” Myers said, adding that for 15 years he’s been denied membership of the civic associations. “I’m tired of the hypocrisy that comes out of the pitchfork-and-spear crowd.”
Myers called the group “pitiful” when he asked how many had read the Future BR land use document, and only a handful of people raised their hands.
He also accused them of never traveling to North Baton Rouge.
“You need to get out of Southdowns, if we’re going to be ‘One Baton Rouge,’ ” Myers said. “Don’t live in fear. Development is not going to overrun you.”
When the candidates discussed the Rouzan development, some of the project’s opponents took aim at developer J.T. “Tommy” Spinosa, who has been embroiled in a three-year courtroom foreclosure battle involving Perkins Rowe.
Residents said they were concerned that the original agreed concept for Rouzan seemed to be changing despite their opposition.
“The good news is Mr. Spinosa is going to be broke or maybe worse soon, so the whole thing is falling apart anyway and it will be sold for pennies on the dollar,” said No-Party mayoral candidate Gordon Mese, adding that he agreed the developer needed to be held to the provisions of an original contract.
Council candidate John Delgado, a Republican, and Mayor-President Kip Holden, Democrat, both said they would hold Spinosa to the original plan and did not support any changes.
Holden said he would “talk to Tommy Spinosa and tell him to stick with the original concept as agreed upon.”
Councilman Mike Walker, a Republican mayoral candidate, and Myers said they supported the Rouzan project and believed it would raise property values.
“I firmly believe as the process goes along… people will enjoy that traditional neighborhood development, and I don’t wish it any other way,” Walker said.
Councilman Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois, a Republican seeking re-election, said he opposed the Rouzan project entirely, and suggested Spinosa deserves the legal troubles he finds himself in.
“Look at his record. Look at how many people he’s put in bankruptcy. Let it happen to him. So what?” Bourgeois said. “I can only tell you that I do not support what he’s doing. I don’t think it’s any good.”
Rose Carey, a Democrat running for the council seat, suggested she’d oppose amending the project.
“I’m with the people, whatever their decision is that’s what I’m for,” Carey said.
The candidates were also asked to take a position on whether commercial businesses should be allowed to move south of Perkins Road into the residential neighborhoods.
The question stemmed from a property that is being considered for rezoning from residential for a commercial use to allow a psychiatrist office on the corner of Stuart Avenue and Perkins Road.
Bourgeois called the Southdowns neighborhood a “fragile” part of the city, and promised to continue the fight to keep businesses out of their neighborhoods.
Delgado, an attorney, also said he was against the rezoning request for the psychiatrist office south of Perkins Road.
“If I was on the council right now I’d vote against it,” Delgado said. “And if I’m on the council next term I will vote against it then.”
Walker, who along with Bourgeois will vote on the rezoning in the coming months, said he couldn’t make a decision until he has seen the proposal.
Holden was the lone voice to say he opposes “expanding Lee Drive in any fashion.”
Mese, Myers and Walker all said they could envision the road as a slightly expanded three-lane street, to provide space for a turning lane.
Bourgeois said he could “begrudgingly” envision a three-lane Lee Drive, but wouldn’t want it to be “1-inch wider” than it currently is.
Delgado said it was important to expand the busy street because emergency vehicles are delayed in the congested, two-lane traffic. Carey said she also supports three-laning the road and wants to see sidewalks added.
The forum was hosted by the Southside, Idle Oaks, Southside Gardens and Magnolia Ridge civic associations, which are neighborhoods that make up part of District 12.