Following much uproar, the Denham Springs City Council unanimously denied a rezoning request that would’ve paved the way for a 170-unit luxury apartment complex to be built on Rushing Road.
Tidal Group, LLC, was seeking a rezoning of a 15-acre plot of land located near 303 Rushing Road West, just behind Home Depot. The vacant land had to be rezoned from commercial use to residential in order for the “high-end” apartment complex to be built.
Dozens of residents spoke out against the possible rezoning during a meeting of the Denham Springs Planning and Zoning Commission, which voted to deny a recommendation in its March 14 meeting.
Many of those residents — and more — packed the council chambers once again Monday, with heated discussion on the proposed apartment complex and its effects dominating a public hearing that lasted well over an hour.
Three people — the current land owners and prospective developer — spoke in favor of the rezoning, but more than a dozen people spoke against it, citing existing infrastructure issues that would only get worse with a new apartment complex.
“We do not need an apartment complex on Rushing Road,” said Annie Fugler, a former councilwoman who voiced her opposition before both the commission and city council. “You can threaten [us] with a motel all day long. You could’ve built a motel anytime you’ve wanted to… and we would rather anything else than an apartment complex.”
Ultimately, City Council members sided with the residents’ opposition and voted 5-0 to deny the rezoning, which led to applause from many gathered.
“It almost doesn’t matter what my opinion is — it has to reflect the opinion of those who put me in this position,” said Councilman Robert Poole before the vote. “I sit here 100 percent with those who chose to voice an opinion in opposition.”
New development is a hot-button issue in Livingston Parish, which is one of the state’s fastest-growing parishes. In the 2020 census, the parish’s population rose by more than 14,000 people — an 11-percent increase that was the seventh-highest in the state.
Though Denham Springs reported a slight drop in population in the census — no doubt partly due to the historic August 2016 flood — infrastructure remains a top concern for the city’s residents and leaders.
And those issues, they said, would only get worse with hundreds more moving into an already-congested area just off Interstate-12.
“It would be a drain on all city resources,” Fugler said. “The gas, the sewer, the water. What little bit you take in in extra utility payments, you’re going to put right back in.”
Flooding was also mentioned several times in the meeting, with residents pointing out the water runoff that occurs when green space is covered by concrete.
“I’m pretty sure I don’t have to tell anybody in this room how powerful water is,” said Francis Tosh. “Where’s it gonna go [after the apartment complex is built]? It has to go somewhere. We’re concerned about what happens to our homes in the future.”
Along with complaints that the complex would worsen existing traffic and drainage problems in the area, others said it would further tax already-strained school, power, internet, and emergency services.
“We can’t even get our trash picked up on time,” said Natalie McKay.
Though he couldn’t cast a vote, Mayor Gerard Landry cited other concerns that would come with the apartment complex. The city’s sewer plant is at 62-percent capacity, and once it reaches 75 percent, the city would have to look at building another, “a $20 million investment.”
Landry also noted the “unbearable” amount of time it would take fire, police, and emergency departments to respond to incidents in the area with another 170 units. One woman said her family waited 45 minutes after calling an ambulance for one to arrive.
The mayor then read from a prepared statement, in which he said, “If our citizens don’t want this, then all the justification in the world will not make me support it.” Landry said he is not against growth, but that it should be “responsible” and keep with “our standards and identity as a community.”
“If we approve this and we later come to regret it, it’s here,” Landry said. “There will not be a means to ‘right the wrong’ so to speak, if we later find that this is something not in the best interest of our community.”
Following Landry’s comments, council members voiced their opinions on the matter, which were mostly against rezoning.
Councilwoman Lori Lamm-Williams noted that there are 30 different businesses that can be built on the land and that it wasn’t simply a matter of “either an apartment complex or a hotel/motel.”
Councilwoman Laura Smith called it “a zoning issue” and warned of the precedent that would be set by changing it.
“The property is zoned commercial,” she said. “If it’s in the city limits and it’s zoned commercial, why do we have zoning if we’re going change it?”
Despite not being rezoned, the tract of land likely won’t stay empty for long, the property owners said.
Colt Fore and Paige Wax, two siblings whose family has owned the land for 30 years, said they’ve had “a lot” of potential purchasers approach them over the years, mostly for hotels or motels.
Fore and Wax warned that property values in the area would likely drop with another hotel or motel in the area — there are already seven — but that they would instead increase with a luxury apartment complex.
“We’re here because we think the apartment complex would make a better impact than a hotel/motel,” Fore said. “After tonight, that decision will be over. It’s going to be free reign. This is the only time you’ll have a say so.
“It’s going to be a hotel/motel if it’s not a luxury apartment complex.”
Ryan Marcomb, of Tidal Group, tried to highlight the amenities of the apartment complex, such as a walking trail, a fitness center, a dog park, a gated entrance, and a 5-acre pond. He also said rent would start at $1,600 and that occupants would be subject to background checks.
But residents questioned how the amenities would benefit them.
“They talk about high end, but what does that do for us?” asked Peggy Cleveland. “We’re not gonna be out there on the walking trails or the fitness center. We’re more worried about what it’s gonna do to our neighborhood.”
Many residents said they’d prefer a hotel or motel instead of apartments.
“Keep it commercial,” said Carolyn Cassidy. “I’ll take my chances with a hotel/motel.”