A battle has been brewing over a piece of commercial land on the Red River. It sits off Clyde Fant Parkway, near Shreveport’s casinos.
“I got a phone call in May of this year from an adjoining owner telling me that my property had been rezoned to this N-A classification. Natural Area classification, and asked if I was aware of that. And I was not,” said commercial real estate broker Jim Dowling.
He’s specialized in commercial real estate and investment properties in Louisiana since 1974.
For the past 21 years he’s owned the 24-acre plot of land sitting south of Shreveport’s downtown airport. It has always been zoned ‘Light Industrial’.
The zoning allows for manufacturing, fabricating, and wholesale distributing businesses to potentially operate there.
He’s frustrated he had to learn from a neighbor that his land is now a protected green space.
“No one from the MPC office ever contacted you directly saying, the property that you own along the river-front is going to lose a tremendous amount of value?’ asked NBC 6’s Dan Jovic.
“No, no. I’d didn’t know any of that until the adjoining property owner contacted me,” said Dowling.
According to Dowling, the down-zoning forced him to pull his property off the commercial real estate market.
“In a broader sense, it has a very negative effect for the city, and the parish and the state,” said Dowling. “By denying the ability to build and develop the property, it denies the potential for jobs. It denies the potential for revenue and further taxes.”
The new zoning ordinance is part of the 300-plus page Shreveport/Caddo Unified Development Code. It rewrites 60 years of zoning laws. In many cases it has simplified zoning laws.
But for Dowling it has not cut down on red tape. It’s created more.
“It’s been damaging in the sense that it has required a lot of time and energy on the property owner’s part to get this undone,” said Dowling. “And still, I don’t know that it’s guaranteed that it’s going to get undone.”
Turns out the Shreveport/Caddo Metropolitan Planning Commission did not have to contact Dowling.
Under Louisiana law, when more than 10 parcels of land are being zoned or rezoned the only requirements are a legal notice published in a newspaper of general circulation and public meetings.
The Shreveport/Caddo MPC director Mark Sweeney says his office did that and more.
They have a visible post on the MPC website. Rezoning maps were posted for 10-months in the lobby of Shreveport’s government plaza. And public meetings were held at 11 public libraries.
“We modeled ourselves after what other communities have done,” said Sweeney. “If you go to almost any community that has done a rewrite of their zoning ordinance, this same pathway is exactly what they did.”
At a MPC meeting on July 5th, MPC board member Lea Desmarteau summed it up this way.
“The UDC was not something that was just done over night,” said Desmarteau in speaking to the other board members. “This has been in public, for public viewing. Everybody who owns property, including you and me, to look at it, study it. Had multiple meetings to discuss it.”
Dowling has an office in Shreveport and in Baton Rouge. He spends more than half his year at the Baton Rouge location. He contends a majority of commercial real estate owners are absentee owners, living out of town.
He says you can’t know of these types of zoning changes if you’re not there.
“Let’s apply some common sense and contact the property owner whose going to be most affected by this,” said Dowling. “And we’re not talking thousands of property owners. We’re talking, I don’t know, a handful.”
MPC Board member Ronnie Remedies says he’s concerned because if a commercial real estate expert with four decades of local experience missed the change, You might as well.
“If someone like that missed their property getting down-zoned before it happened, you can rest assured that some property that you inherited from your grandparents and that you could have not paid attention to could very easily have slipped through the cracks,” said Remedies.
At the July 5th meeting MPC board member Alan Young gave everyone a ball-park idea of what was financially at stake.
“If I had an I-1 piece of property, that I had been offered $2 million for and the next day I woke up and it wasn’t there. And you’re going to say it was my fault because I didn’t look at a map? I think that is not a very valuable argument to argue with,” said Young. “I think you go stand in front of a judge, your going to have a hard time justifying that argument where you took a $2 million asset and turned it into trash.”
Sweeney says all 112,000 parcels of land in the city and parish received new designations under the UDC. Contacting the owners personally would be too time consuming and costly. He says only a small fraction have been down-zoned. But because of it, the MPC has instituted a new policy.
“If your property had been down-zoned, that you had two-years, an open door for two-years to come back to us and request that that property be rezoned back to it’s original zoning at no cost,” said Sweeney. “We thought to be considerate of the concerns of the people here as well as people out of town that that made sense.”
Dowling sees it differently.
“The MPC or any other governmental body, they can follow the letter of the law in some cases, such as in this case, and not apply common sense,” said Dowling. “And we end up with a real screwed up situation such as we have now.”