Residents attend the Calcasieu Parish Planning and Zoning meeting on Tuesday night. (John Guidroz / American Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 10:23 PM
The Calcasieu Parish Planning and Zoning Board voted 7-3 on Tuesday to deny a zoning request from landowners who wanted the Southwest Louisiana Charter Academy built at the corner of Nelson and Ham Reid roads.
Raleigh and Barbara Newman had asked for a zoning exception to allow for the school, which would sit on 18 acres and accommodate up to 860 students in grades K-8. But residents of the area argued that placing a school at the corner would cause serious traffic congestion and drainage problems.
The academy, which is the second charter school in the area, opened in August at 2750 Power Centre Parkway, next to the Lake Charles Charter Academy’s permanent campus.
Gene Thibodeaux, charter academy foundation president, said the Nelson-Ham Reid area was chosen so people could have more options to choose from besides nearby schools like St. John Elementary and S.J. Welsh Middle.
After the vote, he said the board ignored studies he presented indicating that traffic and drainage would not be an issue, along with the parish planning staff’s recommendation to approve the request with several stipulations that would have eased those concerns.
“The board did not listen to the expert evidence and decided early on ... to place more emphasis on passion, emotion and fear,” Thibodeaux said.
Residents from several subdivisions expressed opposition to placing the school close to their neighborhoods. Keith Leger is a vice principal at S.J. Welsh Middle School and lives in the Crestview subdivision. He said traffic on Nelson Road would be severely affected, with about 800 vehicles dropping off and picking up students daily.
“I see what (S.J. Welsh) traffic looks like in the mornings, and we have less than 400 vehicles,” Leger said. “Imagine that times two at least.”
Thibodeaux said three buses were budgeted to reduce traffic congestion along Nelson Road. He said the foundation’s traffic study assumed no buses and indicated no traffic problems.
Mark Boniol, who also sits on the charter academy board, said his business is near the existing charter schools and has experienced no traffic problems.
“There are 1,300 students (at the schools),” he said. “I don’t have children walking across my parking lot.”
Raleigh Newman said his intent was not to hurt residents in Crestview or other nearby subdivisions and that there is a “definite need” for the school.
“If I thought this was going to kill Crestview, I would withdraw it right now, but it’s not,” he said. “We have our kids’ lives and education at stake.”
Dub Henning is the managing partner for the Oak Crossing development, which is directly across from the proposed school site. He said the school would turn the development into a “pickup point” for students and would hurt economic development in the area.
“Schools and commercial development don’t mix,” Henning said. “You can build a school anywhere, but you cannot get rid of the economic corridor we have.”
Boniol said the school would help property values in the area. “If a school doesn’t matter, how come the first thing every young couple asks a Realtor is, ‘What are the schools like here?’ ” he said.
Leger said the school is “designed to attract students from a five-parish area” and that “most of the allotted slots have been filled with students who live miles away from southwest Lake Charles.”
“This is not a neighborhood school,” he said.
District 6 Police Juror Dennis Scott, who represents the area where the school would be built, said the stipulations proposed by planning staff “would have done a lot to protect that area.”
“I don’t think that this is finished by any means,” Scott said. “Now there is an avenue to where these stipulations could be put by the wayside and the school could be put there.”
Allen Smith, the parish’s legal counsel, said the applicant for the zoning request can file suit in 14th Judicial District Court within 15 days of the board’s decision.
Voting to deny the request were Whit Baker, Bettye Brown, John Duhon, Jake Porche, Frank Webb, Gerry Navarre and Glenn Duplechan.
Voting for the request were LaSalle Williams, Eligha Guillory Jr. and Lutricia Cobb.
Board Chairman David Conner did not cast a vote.
Posted By: Vicky On: 10/17/2012
The 2010-2011 school report cards show St. John and S.J. Welsh outperforming the state and the district. why woul parents need a "choice" when they have the best!