Catcalls fly at council meeting
In a charged atmosphere, where the crowd erupted into boos at one moment and applause at the next, a measure to amend an ordinance on the distance alcohol can be sold from a church was soundly defeated, 7-1. The failure upholds the local law that a business serving alcohol must be over 500 feet from the nearest church.
Several members of the Mount Airy Baptist Church, were at the council meeting to protest the amendment — a move they said would allow the establishment of a bar/restaurant next to their church.
The bar/restaurant in question by Southpark Tavern LLC owned by Scott Sirmon would serve liquor and have poker machines and sits adjacent to Mount Airy on Hwy. 90. Pastor Raney Antoine said that facility is too close to his congregation. Members of the congregation packed the meeting and assailed Fabre, who introduced the measure.
Fabre’s proposal would have changed the distance from 500 to 300 ft. in subdivided areas. Fabre said that measure is needed to comply with state regulations.
Fabre said Mt. Airy’s case is completely unrelated and that the rule change would not have affected the church, as they measure over 700 ft. from the proposed bar.
Before voting on the measure, the council was inundated with irate citizens: “Don’t change the law. Don’t make it possible, so you can have gambling facilities closer to our churches and our places of worship….500 ft., in my mind, is not far enough,” said Marcita Duronslet in an impassioned plea to the council.
The coincidence of attempting to change the ordinance as Mt. Airy begins litigation stopping the opening of the liquor-selling establishment enraged congregation member James Smith, speculating that there was collusion.
According to Fabre, the proposal stems from an old lawsuit, Executive Club vs. St. Charles Parish, which the parish lost. In that case, there was dispute over distance.
In Mt Airy’s case, how the measurements are carried out is also at issue, as measurements are not always made in straight lines.
After removing the measure from consideration last meeting, Fabre attempted to remove it again, citing the absence of Parish Attorney Bobby Raymond to explain the legalities to the council and audience, as he felt there was grave misunderstanding. This was met with catcalls from the members of the Mount Airy. Church members had already met with Fabre and Raymond prior to the council meeting. The motion to remove it failed.
Seeing the great outpouring from citizens, “If its not broke, don’t fix it. Just leave it like it is,” said Councilman Dickie Duhe. Ramchandran echoed this sentinment.
After the ammended ordinance failed, the council chamber burst into cheers, with members from Mount Airy being called back into order from Fabre.
Council restricts temporary housing
On other news, the council continues to deal with housing issues brought up because of Katrina and Rita.
An ordinance to amend zoning laws to regulate emergency housing in the parish passed unanimously. The amendment restricts temporary housing for a federally declared disaster. Under the new ordinance, the sites cannot exist for more than 3 years and shall pay for the impact on local infrastructure.
Also on the agenda, the council unanimously passed an ordinance requiring increasing the distance of mobile homes and RV’s in trailer parks from 15 ft. to 25 ft. Introduced by Council President Albert Laque, the measure was passed because of fire concerns in the parks, particularly post-Katrina where the sites have been pushed to capacity. 25 ft is the federal requirement.
Councilman Ramchandran introduced a measure increasing taxicab rates. Meter rates will increase from $1.10 to $2.50 for an eighth of a mile. A ride to New Orleans shall now cost $28.00 for one or two passengers. Fares to Kenner and the airport shall range from $13.25 to $16. The amendment passed 6-2, with Fabre and Black voting against.