The proposed development of a heliport along I-310 in the Esperanza Business Park in Luling is one step closer to fruition after the St. Charles Parish Council voted in favor of allowing rezoning of the land despite the opposition of several residents.
The 6-3 vote took place in front of a standing room only crowd of both supporters and detractors of rezoning the property from light industrial to an aviation zone. Of those in attendance, 14 spoke against the heliport while 12 spoke in its favor.
Timothy Mayeux, who owns MYU Helicopters, plans on developing the lot that is currently owned by 310 Investments.
Those in favor of the project were mostly made up of neighbors to Mayeux’s heliport that has operated on River Road near Sugarhouse Road in Luling for the past 24 years, but also included residents of Ashton Plantation and local developers.
Beau Blake, CEO and president of Blake International Rigs and a resident of Ashton Plantation, disregarded arguments that operation of a heliport in proximity to schools and residential areas presented a hazard.
“This private heliport is much safer than the trucks on I-310, much safer than the train that comes through multiple times per day, one of which derailed around here a couple of weeks ago. But the message should not be about the dangers of this industry but the safety record of MYU Helicopters. MYU has an impeccable safety record,” he said.
Ray Gregson, an Ashton Plantation resident and former president of the Ashton Plantation Homeowners Association, spoke on the noise levels posed by the helicopters and brought up the fact that MYU has been operating in the area and flying over the Ashton Plantation for years.
“Most of us in Ashton didn’t even know he was there,” he said.
Craig Daste, a local real estate developer, said the project would bring millions of dollars worth of improvements to the area.
“This location has been vacant for nearly eight years and its time has come for development. I am tired of seeing vacant land here that has been sitting so long with empty promises of future development,” he said.
Arguments against the heliport, including concerns over safety, noise, property devaluation and complaints of spot zoning, came mainly from neighboring landowners, developers and some residents of the Ashton Plantation neighborhood, which is located across I-310 from the proposed development.
Last week anti-heliport signs were placed along property owned by Lamar Contractors on I-310 adjacent to the property planned for the heliport development. The business has proposed the construction of a 50-unit commercial complex on that site and are afraid a heliport would affect the future of that development.
Steve Louque, a project manager at Lamar Contractors, accused the Parish Council of not following parish law.
“We set all of these rules to protect the neighboring landowners, the adjacent landowners that are put in place and we are just going to waive all of them – several of them – just whoop they are gone,” he said.
Jim Hooper, director of the Ashton Plantation Homeowners Association and a developer of the community, voiced his concern that the 142 undeveloped lots in Ashton Plantation may be devalued if construction of heliport is allowed.
“The heliport does not fit within or near the existing planned commercial and residential areas. This section of I-310 corridor is presently among the parish’s prime area for economic development. Please do not put the interest of a few over future prosperity in St. Charles Parish,” he said.
Although Hooper cited the safety concerns given that the rezoned property is located nearby R.K. Smith Middle School and the Satellite Center, the St. Charles Parish School Board does not oppose the rezoning.
Elaina Snow, an Ashton Plantation resident said while she respects what the investment by MYU means to the community she feels the number of local property owners who came out against the heliport should resound with council members.
“I’m a capitalist. I think whatever we can do to get more businesses in St. Charles Parish is fabulous. Mr. Mayeux apparently is a good neighbor in St. Charles Parish, but this is the wrong location. This cannot be said or stressed any better,” she said.
Councilman Larry Cochran called the vote one of the hardest he has made in his career, but after amending the ordinance to only allow for five helicopters to operate out of the property, the same number MYU currently operates at its current location, he supported the rezoning. A vote on a special use permit for the property also added an amendment that disallows the site from being used by other helicopter operators except in emergency situations.
Council members voting in favor of the rezoning were Cochran, Traci Fletcher, Julia Fisher-Perrier, Terrell Wilson and Billy Woodruff. Council members Paul Hogan, Carolyn Schexnaydre and Mary Tastet voted against the ordinance.