Citizens concerned over Resiliency Plan

Published 8:27 am Friday, February 20, 2015

Tuesday’s Bogalusa City Council meeting was expected to be brief with only one business item on the agenda. It turned into a raucous, finger-pointing session, however, with accusations of city officials furtively attempting to take people’s property in Poplas Quarters.

The item in question was the introduction of an ordinance authorizing the city to accept the Bogalusa Comprehensive Resiliency Plan, a work authored by Dana Brown & Associates, a New Orleans firm that specializes in landscape architecture and planning. Brown did the work during Charles Mizell’s administration.

The council will vote on the measure at its next meeting on March 3. A public hearing will precede the vote. Brown is expected to attend the next meeting.

In its recommendations to the city, Dana Brown offered various avenues through which Bogalusa could revitalize its neighborhoods in the way of land use, housing, education, recreation, public services, infrastructure and transportation.

In Brown’s recommendation for Poplas Quarters, she talked about transitioning the neighborhood.

“The Poplas neighborhood was hit hardest by the citywide population loss and decline over the last few decades,” the report said. “Vacant lots comprise more than 40 percent of the area’s total parcels, home ownership rate is lower than 20 percent, and the two public housing developments located on the very edge of the neighborhood constitute the most distressed share of the city’s public housing stock.

“As the moderate projected growth of the city’s population within the next 20 years will not be sufficient to offset the population loss of the last decades, Bogalusa needs to react to the severe, and over time, increased problems related to a footprint that is too large. The city needs to plan for a smaller and more sustainable Bogalusa. The future land use for Poplas will transition from residential development to an area dedicated as a transitional land bank.”

Dana Brown & Associates defines a land bank as “the aggregation of smaller parcels into a large body of land that is acquired by a public or non-profit organization for conservation, preservation, environmental enhancement or future development.”

City Council District A representative Gloria Kates had a number of questions she wanted answered from Brown regarding the Comprehensive Resiliency Plan. Kates produced maps while questioning the plan.

“In retrospect to the land element of the Comprehensive Resiliency Plan, Dana Brown has given many reasons why a land bank should be established,” Kates said. “First we need to clarify Dana Brown’s definition of a land bank,” Kates said.

She said it is important to do it right the first time.

“It is understood that this document is a living document and can be amended at any time,” Kates said. “However, we must consider getting this right the first time. The source of data of surveys and assessments should be revealed and updated if applicable, which may determine a more comparable plan for this area. We should also consider if property owners will be able to develop their own property with the current plan in place.”

Kates pushed for a more detailed plan.

“Again, we need an optional plan that is more detailed, defined, and specific,” Kates said. “We need a plan that would be in consideration of home owners in this very historic area, which has been home to many for past generations and for generations to come.”

Bogalusa City School Board member Paul Kates voiced his displeasure over the Resiliency Plan.

“I don’t know why Poplas Quarters was targeted. This is not good,” Kates said.

“This is nothing set in stone,” Councilman At-Large Doug Ritchie said.

“Every section of the city has long range plans,” Council President Teddy Drummond added.

“No other area is targeted for a land bank,” Kates said.

Theresa Keller spoke first about poor road conditions in front of Sweet Beulah Baptist Church, located at 1408 N. Roosevelt St. She joined in on the discussion about Poplas Quarters.

“What I have heard here tonight is the most disturbing in my 80 years,” Keller said. “Poplas Quarters has basically been the black community of Bogalusa. Wiping out a whole black community is the worst thing I’ve ever heard of. What motivated this?”

Mayor Wendy Perrette dug in her heels and answered many of the questions posed to the council by the public.

“This was a working document for the last three years. This plan did not put down anybody’s neighborhood,” Perrette said. “Martin Luther King had a dream. The races are blended. In my administration what is good for one is good for all. This plan is a living document like the Constitution.

“Today’s children don’t see it as a black neighborhood. We don’t have to be separated anymore,” Perrette added. “We have been through this discrimination thing before. That’s what we’re known for. It’s not 1960. It’s 2015. It’s not a black thing. It’s not a white thing. It’s the right thing.”

Regarding North Roosevelt Street, Keller said she has pleaded with the last four administrations to blacktop the street. Keller is president of the Church’s trustee board.

“We want to make you aware of the critical condition which we are having to endure,” Keller said. “Willis Avenue has been blacktopped. We keep hearing the same old story that ‘we are out of money.’ For some reason, money always runs out right up to our church.”

Perrette said funds are not currently available to pave North Roosevelt.

“We don’t have $35,000 to replace that street,” Perrette said. “The road Sweet Beulah is on is not a federal street, so we can’t do it. We’re working on our main streets. I can tell you Austin Street will be paved. I can tell you Rio Grande will be paved. You’ve got to have money to pay the men. I’m not going to promise anything.”

In other matters, Perrette read a proclamation declaring the month of February as College Technical Education by the Association for Career and Technical Education. Perrette presented Northshore Technical Community College Assistant Director for Student Affairs Stephanie Warren a certificate of the designation.