METAIRIE, La. - It's been the center of a contentious legal battle in Jefferson Parish for years, but neighbors and developers agreed Thursday on the future of the Tolmas Tract, the parish's largest piece of open land that fronts Veterans Boulevard.
At a public meeting at St. Angela Merici gym in Metairie, neighbors voted overwhelmingly to approve a proposal to develop the land, with restrictions.
It's a major departure from homeowner's position just a few years ago.
Tina Seghurs, a member of the Whitney-Cecile Homeowners Association, has been fighting against proposed commercial development in the empty lot across the street since she moved to the Whitney Subdivision 20 years ago.
'If it were to become all commercial, our property value would go down,' Seghurs said.
The Whitney-Cecile Homeowners Association has undergone a heated legal battle with developers for decades, trying to maintain the lot's current residential zoning.
Neighbors won in appeals court last year, but even as the case made its way through the courts, developers spent the last two years meeting with neighbors to try to come up with a compromise. At Thursday's meeting, neighbors voted overwhelmingly to approve it.
'We feel we have a good solution for the property that protects the values of the homeowners,' said Harold Singer, president of the Whitney-Cecile Homeowners Association.
'This is one of the most litigated proprieties for decades, and the fact the owners of the property and the leadership of the neighborhood association were able to work for over a year and a half and come up with a compromise is just really huge,' said Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng.
The key to the compromise: Five homes would be built facing existing properties on N. Labarre Road and 22nd Street to act as a buffer from the development. The rest of the 3.4-acre lot could be zoned commercial with restrictions on height and the type of businesses that could be built. Among the restrictions, the developer would agreed not to build stand alone bars or apartment buildings.
'We would never want a development to hurt the neighborhood,' said Joseph Georgusis, of property owner Morning Park, LLC. 'We want to enhance the value and the size of the houses.'
Even though neighbors voted to green light the project, many still have concerns, including the proposed closure of the part of Tolmas Drive that bisects the Tolmas tract. And the meeting still got heated.
'Where are they going to park when the lot is full?' asked one concerned neighbor. 'They're going to park in the neighborhood.'
Those like Seghurs wish the lot would stay residential, but want to put an end to the long legal battle. 'We have to compromise. No one wants to go back to court.'
Even though the homeowners association has voted, the developer still has to get approval from the parish council and planning board.