1st Circuit Court of Appeal rules Rouzan rezoning invalid

An appeals court has sided with two property owners who claim Baton Rouge developer J.T. “Tommy” Spinosa’s Rouzan development was improperly rezoned, raising questions about newly built homes and future construction on the site, which has been a flashpoint for years.

The rezoning — from A-1 single-family residential to a traditional neighborhood development — was key to Spinosa’s ability to begin a combination of small-lot single-family houses, and multifamily and commercial buildings in Rouzan off Perkins Road near the Southdowns neighborhood.

“We will most likely file an application for rehearing. We believe the ruling to be improper and will request for it to be withdrawn,” said Kelly Vastine, Rouzan’s marketing director.

If Spinosa is not able to overturn the ruling or unable to find other zoning remedies through the city-parish for the property, the Rouzan development reverts to A-1 single-family residential, Assistant Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson said Thursday.

One possibility for Spinosa, Batson said, would be seeking zoning for a smaller TND that does not include within its boundaries the two properties in the dispute.

That would entail going back through the Planning Commission and Metro Council.

Spinosa would not comment at length about the litigation, but said he does not believe any of the homeowners already living in Rouzan would be adversely affected.

“We don’t see any impact on anybody,” Spinosa said. “Absolutely not.”

Unless the appellate decision becomes final, Vastine said, “We will continue to move forward with the planned vision of Rouzan.”

Rouzan has only residential development, but lot sizes are smaller than allowed under A-1 zoning, which would mean homeowners who have built there would have to seek relief from city-parish rules if the appellate decision stands, Batson said.

Those people would not lose their homes, she added.

“The people who live there now would not have to destroy those residences,” Batson emphasized when pressed on that point.

Such destruction was not the intent of the lawsuit, said Alexis A. St. Amant, an attorney representing the two neighborhood residents fighting the increased density at the development southwest of Perkins Road and Glasgow Avenue.

“I think this is a blow for righteousness and democracy,” St. Amant said Thursday. “We will take whatever steps are necessary to make them whole again,” the attorney said of his clients.

Those two property owners — Bob Welch and Daniel Hoover, who have raised families at two homes they own in the middle of the 119-acre development — challenged a city-parish ordinance approved by the Metro Council for Rouzan’s rezoning as a TND.

A ruling late Wednesday by the state’s 1st Circuit Court of Appeal said the lawsuit never should have been dismissed by 19th Judicial District Judge Wilson Fields.

Welch and Hoover alleged in their six-year-old civil court suit that Spinosa’s 2590 Associates LLC should not have been granted the change from A-1 single-family zoning.

A valid change to TND zoning would have required Spinosa and his associates to own all of the property in that development, Welch and Hoover argued.

Circuit Judges James E. Kuhn, John T. Pettigrew and J. Michael McDonald agreed with Welch and Hoover.

The appellate judges noted the will of the deceased former owner of the 124-acre tract, Mary Bordelon Ford, left an existing home to Welch, another existing home to Hoover, five acres surrounding those homes and a jointly-owned barn, and a 30-foot-wide access servitude to Glasgow Avenue.

The remaining 119 acres was later sold by other people to Spinosa’s group, the appellate judges said, but the developer did not own or control Welch’s and Hoover’s properties near the middle of the tract, as required by TND zoning rules.

“We render a declaratory judgement in favor of Bob Welch and Daniel Hoover and against East Baton Rouge Parish Metropolitan Council and intervenor, 2590 Associates LLC,” the appellate judges wrote.

Kuhn, Pettigrew and McDonald added that the Metro Council and 2590 Associates are responsible for payment of all of Welch’s and Hoover’s court costs for both the original suit and its appeal.

What happens next for Welch and Hoover?

“We don’t know,” St. Amant said.

The attorney added the construction project has blocked Welch, a veterinarian, and Hoover, agriculture manager for the Louisiana Department of Corrections, from the easy access to Glasgow that Ford left them in both her will and property records.

“Now, you have to drive through a maze to get to their homes,” St. Amant said.

In addition, St. Amant said, Rouzan construction led to a cutoff of natural gas service to Welch’s residence from October 2012 to December 2013.

It’s time for things to change for the better for Welch and Hoover, St. Amant said.