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Four Hours and Two Votes: More of the Same and Still No Highway

May 22, 2012

Following the mayor’s annual recognition of student athletes at the Shreveport City Council Meeting, the council with all members present voted to suspend the rules and consider issues related to 3132 and, nearly four hours later voted on the two issues of concern to the Finish 3132 Coalition. Chairman Sam Jenkins indicated that in the public comments section the principal spokesperson for each organization would get 15 minutes and asked others to limit their follow-up comments to 5 minutes.

Tim Larkin, presenting for Larkin Development, appealed the MPC’s decision to the Council. Rather than voting on the issue, the council, likely cognizant of their political futures, voted to remand the issue back to the MPC. So what took all this time? Much of what was said today has been said before. If anyone came to hear new information, there was precious little of it.

Larkin was first up, presenting much of the same information he has consistently presented, declaring that he is for 3132 and intends to protect the path of 3132. He repeated the litany of improvements he has made on his property, preparing it for development, including the expense of a $1.4 million bridge. He indicated he had done everything that had been asked of him.

Most in the audience would acknowledge that Larkin has followed the instructions given him and would empathize with his desire to begin constructing homes and earning revenue from his investment. However, many in that same audience would also acknowledge that it is important to weigh the overall economic benefit to the city of the 3132 extension (not to mention complying with the wishes of the voters) against the economic benefit of one new development.

Larkin indicated that residents in the property would be able to use Railsback Road, which was intended as the original entrance. It was unclear if the original plan was for the Railsback Road entrance to be the sole entrance to the property. That’s what was in his first proposal but he was unable to construct that because residents along Railsback Road were opposed and because he could not get that property. Perhaps that’s when he decided he needed another entrance on Flournoy Lucas Road. He admitted to the council that he had “made commitments to a lot of people. There will be a road there and I am ready to build it there.” He indicated he had made a commitment to others that before he began building houses he would build a bridge and a road connecting it to Flournoy Lucas Road.

It’s fairly clear that the extension of 3132 was not on his radar or that, if it was, he was unconcerned because the Coalition has documents that show him with his road placed on the city-owned 16 acres. Even Larkin admitted that while he was all for protecting the route of 3132, he didn’t know where it was going. He termed the drawing of the extension on the display map he exhibited was “an artist’s conception.” It was a conception that used the least amount of his land along Bayou Pierre.

When questioned by Chairman Sam Jenkins about when we will know something about the proposed path of 3132, NLCOG director Kent Rogers said that he had requested a report from DOTD Deputy Secretary Eric Kalivoda. The report of the Stage 0 Feasibility Study will be ready at the end of June and ready for public comment. That study was commissioned last Halloween (October 31). The feasibility study will recommend corridors to consider in the Environmental Study to determine a preferred alignment. The environmental study will take an additional 15 to 18 months, he said.

Rogers had been asked at the council meeting to confirm Dr. Kalivoda’s letter to Larkin. The letter Larkin referenced had been presented to the MPC at their last meeting, with Larkin showing only page 2 of the letter. He contended that Dr. Kalivoda had approved his plan and that there should be no action to and that as presented, it would not impede the 3132 extension. The Coalition obtained page 1 of the letter and indicated that the first part of the letter actually referenced a proposed negotiation with The Glen to use their property for a different roadway and that the last paragraph was a demand on the part of Kalivoda that no action that impeded the 3132 extension would be approved or allowed.

Rogers repeated Dr. Kalivoda’s caution that no party should take any action to impede the path of 3132. He also said that by January of 2013 we should have “a strong idea” about what the recommended path for 3132’s extension will be.

Councilman Joe Shyne said he had attended the MPC meeting and that he thought it was a good meeting and agreed with the MPC’s action. He reiterated that no one knows where 3132 will go and believes no action should be taken until we know where it will go. He said he is for Larkin and for development that’s good for the city but that if we will have information by the end of June that would allow them to make a better decision, the request by Larkin should be postponed or tabled. “As a governing body we have the legal and moral obligation to look at what’s best for the city.”  He reinforced the importance of the 3132 extension as an economic engine for the city and Northwest Louisiana.

Larkin indicated that Kalivoda had given “new information” and that this was a good reason for the MPC to look at it again.

Councilman Sam Jenkins said he was concerned that development might occur in Larkin’s development and then we would find that we had houses in the proposed path and that we would have to purchase those houses. [Note: This is what happened with Twelve Oaks and the reason that 3132 cannot be built now as in the path originally planned for it.]

Councilman Webb asked if there might be some way for Larkin to simply build in the lots he has already had platted and approved by the MPC and just use the Railsback Road entrance. Larkin indicated that the MPC zoning ordinance have given him the stipulation that he could build houses but only when he completed a bridge and road to Flournoy Lucas. Obviously, 3132 got in the way of that.

Lengthy discussion ensued about whether the MPC or the Council was the right place to overrule the stipulation and allow Larkin to build without having to have a road to Flournoy Lucas. Councilman Webb said he was concerned this might not be able to be settled by them and would “wind up in the courts.”

Jim McMichael spoke as attorney for both Willis-Knighton Health System and the Finish 3132 Coalition. In a stunning turn of events, precipitated by hostile and disparaging remarks about the health system and coalition members and supporters at yesterday’s council work session, the Coalition requested that McMichael handle comments on its behalf. McMichael indicated that the absence of key people might allow the council to avoid the distraction of personalities and focus on the facts. McMichael indicated Webb was right when he said this might be taken out of the political arena and placed in the judicial arena and that the Coalition would welcome that action. He tried to put into context what the MPC did  -- that they denied Larkin the opportunity to build a permanent road in an area that was under consideration for 3132, allowing him to continue to use the temporary construction road he has used for years until a path for 3132 was identified. He also said that everybody understands Larkin’s expenditures and desire to begin construction but that the weighed the good of the public against that of Larkin. He said the MPC did “a good job of balancing” the future of the extension against Larkin’s need to see a return on his investment.

McMichael said that his interpretation of the DOTD letter Rogers read was that Dr. Kalivoda once again said that we don’t want anything that will impede the 3132 route. Can Larkin do that? Larkin said he promised he would not impede 3132 but how can he do that if he doesn’t know where the route will go. McMichael also pointed out that the permit Larkin had from DOTD had expired May 14. However, nobody on the council seemed to have picked up on that, which would have probably saved them a lot of time if they had.

Councilwoman McCulloch said she thought the council was “grasping at straws,” that Larkin was an honest man and that she “felt” him – meaning she empathized with him. She said her inclination was to go along with what Councilman Mike Corbin wanted to do in his district and that the issue should be “reprimanded” [remanded] back to the MPC.

Councilman Shyne said he disagreed with McCullouch that they were grasping at straws. He complimented McMichael’s presentation and said he loved Mr. Larkin but that he makes decisions not based on how much he likes someone, not on his heart but on his head. He also said that this is not a matter for Corbin’s district but reminded everyone that it was an issue for the City and Northwest Louisiana. He said we need for the state to come back and say “this is the corridor” before anything is done.

Glover spoke to McMichael and said that if his presence as counsel for Willis-Knighton (no mention of his role as counsel for us on the Coalition) represented a shift in tone or tenor, he commended him for it because “what has transpired is reprehensible” when you look at websites and emails.

Darrell Rebouche, resident and representative of Acadiana Place subdivision presented to the council the same petition that had been presented to the MPC. He reiterated that the residents of the neighborhood do not want the intersection there where it would back up traffic and the single entrance/exit to their subdivision. They are also concerned about unwanted development that might arise along Flournoy Lucas. He said he found it interesting that it was ok for Acadiana Place and Twelve Oaks to both have only one entrance and questioned why that could not be suitable for Larkin’s Esplanade subdivision.

The mayor grilled Rebouche about why he had attended meetings – as if being a citizen of Shreveport and a resident of Acadiana Place were not enough of a good reason to be present.

Others speaking about 3132 were Vernon Hastings, community activist, and Gil Pittard, a retired engineer. Hastings said that it had been “a terrible disappointment” to see how the entire 3132 issue has been handled. He indicated Joe Shyne was the first elected representation who has said 3132 is vital the city of Shreveport and that Councilman Corbin had “written it off.” He said we have all “wasted a lot of time and energy over what should be a no-brainer.”

Pittard, as a retired engineer, expressed his dismay about the lack of movement on the project. Using Larkin’s visual, he pointed out that a road entrance so close to the proposed intersection of 3132 and Flournoy Lucas would be “asking for traffic trouble.” As an engineer, he gave his professional opinion that “you can’t do that.”

On a motion by Councilman Corbin, the council voted to remand the issue back to the MPC, asking them to consider (1) comments from residents of Railsback Road, (2) so-called “new” information from DOTD and (3) request that a temporary construction road be the only one permitted. All except Shyne voted to remand it to MPC.

In other action, the council also approved, this time unanimously, a motion to permit right of way along Flournoy Lucas in front of Twelve Oaks to be used so Twelve Oaks developer Tony Janca could apply for a curb cut for new businesses to serve his neighborhood. He showed a survey of residents and the kind of businesses they wanted there. What was fairly obvious on the drawing of sliver of right of way was that it was connected to the city-owned 16 acres that the council had earlier protected for 3132. Allowing access of the connected property could likely void the council’s protection, something nobody on the council seemed to consider or care about. Janca also indicated that he has been a proponent of the extension of 3132 and that he had personally taken flak from residents in Twelve Oaks for his pro-3132 position.

What will happen now? Likely, more of the same. This is a political hot potato and the only body that has shown any gumption related to this issue is the MPC. These are regular citizens, appointed by the mayor, not elected. Isn’t that ironic?

Video Updates

May 27, 2014
Elliott Stonecipher, spokesperson for the Finish 3132 Coalition, offers an update on the project.
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