Livingston Parish officials have agreed to enforce current zoning rules requiring 1-acre lots for a large, controversial new subdivision in the Denham Springs area, a win for residents who filed a lawsuit over the developer’s recently submitted site plan.
A stipulation reached Tuesday delays the project’s construction for now. But an ongoing, separate federal lawsuit filed by the developer challenging the parish’s zoning laws could have them thrown out, upending the residents’ victory.
The possibility of Deer Run, the expansive subdivision slated for 4-H Club Road, has escalated tensions between developers hoping to build in the parish and residents who want their community to retain some of the region’s rural charm.
This protracted battle over development has played out against the backdrop of rapid population growth and resident anxieties that the surge of newcomers will overwhelm the parish’s infrastructure, worsening flooding and traffic problems. Pressure has only ramped up since the parish council began to pass zoning maps for unincorporated areas, restricting who can build what and where.
In recent weeks, Ascension Properties Inc., the Deer Run developer, filed a federal lawsuit against the Livingston Parish Council claiming the body violated state and parish laws when enacting the District 5 zoning map, which is where Deer Run would be located. The lawsuit also alleges the map zoned the subdivision’s anticipated property in a manner inconsistent with prior site approvals — potentially stalling the project.
Several weeks later, a citizen’s group filed its own lawsuit seeking to revoke the latest site approval for the contentious subdivision. That case closed Tuesday, leaving the future of Deer Run in limbo.
A week ago, the 5th District Livingston Parish Concerned Citizens Association, LLC filed a lawsuit in the 21st Judicial District Court, arguing Deer Run’s latest preliminary site plan that had been approved by the planning and zoning commission violates parish ordinances and must be rejected on legal grounds.
In their lawsuit, the citizens asked that a judge order parish officials to revoke the site plan’s approval and bar the project from moving forward.
The residents allege Deer Run’s second preliminary plat did not follow certain parish ordinances, such as the zoned property mandating a minimum lot size of 1 acre and any project with more than 600 lots requiring four entrances.
According to the lawsuit, Deer Run’s most recent site plan calls for lots that are 40 feet wide, and it has only three entrances.
On Tuesday morning, residents and parish council members packed a Livingston Parish courtroom, waiting to see if the lawsuit would succeed.
After a brief closed door conference in the judge’s chambers between attorneys for both parties, they emerged and announced they had come to an agreement and would enter into a stipulation: Parish officials will enforce the local ordinances for the subdivision, requiring the Deer Run developer to add a fourth entrance to the plans and abide by the zoning currently in place before construction starts.
District 5 Councilwoman Erin Sandefur, who sat on the front row during the court hearing, said in a statement she was pleased the judge “upheld the law and required the developers to follow the zoning ordinances.”
“Our zoning protects the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of District 5,” she added.
Christopher Moody, the parish attorney, said in an interview after the matter was closed that he thought the outcome was “a great victory for these residents.”
However, he noted that the current zoning — which requires a minimum lot size of 1 acre — is likely to change “as it has been attacked in federal court.” Moody added he thinks “that claim has significant merit.”
Steven Loeb, the attorney for the 5th District citizens, said what his clients wanted from the beginning was for the subdivision’s site plan documents to comply with the law, and that now the developer will not be permitted to start construction until those plans align with parish ordinances.
Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks has suggested the parish council might need to start over with a clean slate when it comes to zoning, acknowledging it appears the body did not follow the proper legal procedures.
If the zoning regulations are overturned, Deer Run could likely proceed with its current plans to keep its lots that are 40 feet wide, albeit with a fourth entrance added to its site plan.
Easterly, the Ascension Properties attorney, did not immediately return a request for comment following the court event on Tuesday.