Judge says BR rule illegal

A state district judge ruled Thursday that the city-parish’s ordinance forbidding three or more unrelated people from living together in a house is unconstitutional and unenforceable, a decision city-parish officials said they will appeal.

Lawyer and 2012 candidate for mayor-president Steve Myers sued the city-parish last year over its zoning regulation concerning neighborhoods zoned A-1 residential, which according to the Unified Development Code, must be occupied by a “single family.”

Family is defined in the code as “an individual or two or more persons who are related by blood, marriage or legal adoption living together.”

Myers’ attorneys in January argued in court that the ordinance prevented alternative family structures including foster parenting and gay couples with children from living together.

Most commonly in Baton Rouge, it has prevented three or more college students from being able to rent a house together.

Myers also said the law violates the constitutional rights of privacy, association and equal protection.

In her ruling, District Court Judge Janice Clark said the language in the Unified Development Code is “unconstitutionally vague.”

She wrote that there appeared to be no rational basis serving a state interest for defining family in the development code in a way that “creative kinship networks” common in society are treated differently from the traditional nuclear family.

The city-parish plans to appeal Clark’s ruling, Parish Attorney Mary Roper Thursday. The case will bypass the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals and go directly to the state Supreme Court because the ordinance was ruled unconstitutional, she said.

Roper also said her office will seek a “suspensive appeal,” asking that Clark’s ruling not go into effect until after the Supreme Court makes its decision.

Myers said in an interview Thursday he was pleased Clark was able to evaluate the “rationality of the law over the emotions of the neighbors.”

“Judge Clark showed a lot of courage to stand up against a lot of old-timers who wants things to be like they were in the 1950s,” he said.

Myers, who owns several rental properties, has been sued by the city-parish several times for violations of zoning regulations in the Southside neighborhoods.

“The people that are against young people and students living together have their own personal problems with bigotry,” he said. “I still don’t buy into the fact that because they’re under 40, they’re a bad neighbor.”

Myers’ attorneys argued in court that his rentals in the neighborhood did not lower property values as argued by neighbors who complained about his tenants.

Clark agreed with Myers’ assessment in her ruling.

“The evidence is overwhelming that this non-traditional family, these graduates and contractors have not caused a decrease in property value,” Clark wrote. “Quite the contrary, it was conclusively shown that the property has increased its value significantly.”

Myers said the city-parish could save money in litigation by simply fixing the language in the code.

He said if the city-parish or neighborhood associations want to limit neighborhood density, laws can be passed to regulate how many cars can be in a driveway per house, or how many people can live in a home per room or square footage.

He noted there are already laws on the books that regulate nuisances, such as noise ordinances and laws that prevent cars from being parked in yards.

Carole Anne Brown, a board member of the Southside Civic Association, said in an emailed statement Tuesday, “It is clear Mr. Myers will do anything for his profit not necessarily for the good of the community.”