Tensions high at forum on city Resiliency Plan

Published 8:50 am Wednesday, March 4, 2015

There were a few tense and anxious moments as New Orleans city planner Dana Brown attempted to explain away rumors that the city of Bogalusa planned to exploit citizens of Poplas Quarters by taking their property.

Brown, who operates Dana Brown & Associates, was interrupted several times at the start of Monday’s meeting at City Hall as she attempted to offer her presentation of the Bogalusa Comprehensive Resiliency Plan, a document her office authored that has upset Poplas Quarters residents.

Brown threatened to leave the meeting before some common ground was found. The meeting continued without any more disruptions. Approximately 60 citizens attended the forum in the conference room.

It was agreed the Comprehensive Resiliency Plan would be reworked where Poplas Quarters was concerned. It was also agreed additional public forums are necessary to better educate the public. The next meetings are scheduled for April 18. The first meeting that day is scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon. The second is from 2 to 4 p.m. A tentative site is the Bogalusa High School auditorium.

Members of the City Council and Bogalusa Personnel Director Sandy Bloom attended Monday’s meeting.

“We’ve done Comprehensive Resiliency Plans in Amite City, Houma, Abbeville and Sunset. Every one is different,” Brown said. “The population of Bogalusa has been shrinking. We address that and how the city deals with a bigger area than it now has to attract investment to bring the population back. In this plan, we’re addressing shrinkage of population.”

Brown referred to the Rust Belt of Cleveland and Detroit.

“There is no revenue to maintain those areas. I’m not going to give you a blue sky. I’m very pragmatic,” she said.

Brown said three workshops were held in town that concerned the Comprehensive Resiliency Plan.

Brown was asked how the plan concerning Poplas Quarters was devised.

“We went to the area on several occasions and walked around,” Brown said. “We did go into the community and passed out handouts. We sincerely attempted to reach everybody. We printed fliers.”

Brown said the first workshop asked local residents for assets and challenges to growth. Residents listed Cassidy Park and waterways as assets. Challenges included the school system, infrastructure and access into town.

According to Brown, the second workshop presented alternatives for future growth and presented projected growth for the next 25 years.

Brown touched on urban agriculture aspects of the plan.

“That is one of the things that might work here,” Brown said. “The idea is to try and acquire large enough pieces of land and then cobble even bigger pieces of land together. Urban agriculture is about truck farming. There are fruits and vegetables that could be grown here. They could supply the New Orleans Restaurant Association. It’s about marketing your agriculture. Nobody is going to take anybody’s land.”

The third workshop centered on land-use plans.

“In terms of connections to the city, Poplas Quarters is really isolated. Revenue is less than half of what it used to be,” Brown said. “What we’re trying to do is consolidate where people live and not have people scattered. If you own a lot, build a house on it. Poplas needs to be fixed right away.”

District A Councilwomen Gloria Kates said three sites on the Louisiana African-American Trail located in the Poplas neighborhood need to be protected. They include Greater Ebenezer Baptist Church, St. Paul A.M.E. Church and the William Bailey Jr. Playground.

Marvin Austin Sr. asked Brown about the city possibly annexing land to increase revenue.

“Revenue wouldn’t be increased enough to make a difference,” Brown said. “There is not a dense enough tax base.”

Brown was asked the best ways to boost the local economy.

“The only way to build any wealth here is to get somebody to come in and drop their money here,” Brown said. “How do I say this? I really don’t think the economic development of Bogalusa has been robust enough. To bring in jobs, you’ve got to bring specialists.”

Brown mentioned consultants such as Johnny Bordelon of Burkes & Associates in Slidell and Ivan Miestchovich, a University of New Orleans professor who specializes in local community economics and housing.

Brown advised residents of all age groups, especially younger citizens, to attend the April 18 workshops so they can offer other ideas and perspective.

“I think the forum went very well,” Brown said after the meeting. “The point of the meeting was for people who haven’t been heard to express themselves. We heard them, so we’re going to modify the Plan.”

Theresa Keller said she thought the forum was beneficial.

“I thought it went wonderfully. I was impressed with Dana Brown and her willingness to go into that document and change the unfair items that were proposed,” Keller said. “She let us know the Plan is going to be revised and the oversights corrected.”