Council Preview 12/16: Old federal courthouse is back for help; a ‘new’ development code; ratifying Guillory’s emergency powers

Illustration by Peter DeHart

The gist: Wednesday (tonight) the City Council will finally decide if it’s going to subsidize the old federal courthouse developer’s profits. Both councils will decide whether to reaffirm the mayor-president’s emergency powers. And Lafayette may be getting a new development code — kind of. Meanwhile, the parish’s deteriorating finances continue to force tough decisions on the Parish Council as it votes to take money away from keeping the parish’s jail safe just to pay its bills.

Old federal courthouse developers are asking for more help — again. After multiple false starts, the development group led by E.J. Krampe is back on the City Council’s agenda with a request for a restoration tax abatement that would waive roughly $1.4 million in property taxes. If approved, Krampe’s group won’t have to pay property taxes for five years on the increased value of the redeveloped courthouse with a potential renewal another five years after that. And not just city property tax but all parish property taxes too, including for parish government, the sheriff and the school system. The total 10-year value for this abatement would be more than $2.7 million. 

  • Krampe’s group purchased this property from the city for $1.4 million more than two years ago, but it’s been a bumpy road since then. Construction still hasn’t started despite the original goal of finishing the project this month. Beginning in January, LCG can start charging $10,000 a month in penalties. Originally, the project was going to include more than 25,000 square feet of commercial space for retail and offices. Citing the pandemic-induced recession, the developers want to abandon the planned mixed-use development and instead build only apartments. 
  • Critics of these types of subsidies have questioned whether they make for good policy. Economic development incentives like tax abatement are common. But critics from the right and left have begun to view them as giveaways. If projects are viable without government support, they argue, then abatements put money into developers’ pockets. If projects aren’t viable without subsidy, then the government shouldn’t be in the business of making them work. At a recent DDA meeting, Krampe’s team indicated the project may not be viable without the abatement. 

Mayor-President Josh Guillory is asking both the City and Parish councils to recognize and ratify his declaration of public emergencies. These declarations in response to COVID-19 and Hurricanes Marco, Laura and Delta grant Guillory the ability to enter into contracts that circumvent normal public bid law and to transfer unexpended but appropriated balances into and out of various line items. While these votes might be formalities in normal times, tensions between Guillory and the City Council in particular could bubble up over this matter. For months now, there’s been a power struggle between the City Council and this administration on city dollars. The council could push back against a perceived effort to expand Guillory’s authority. Guillory has cut the council out of the loop on some key budget decisions, including a recent deal to award a surveillance contract to a private company owned by a politically connected law enforcement booster.  

The councils may approve a “new” development code. Guillory entered office promising to “repeal and replace” Lafayette’s Unified Development Code, which sets standards and guidelines for development and construction in Lafayette Parish. Rather than fully repealing and replacing the old UDC, his administration is proposing a few dozen tweaks aimed at making it easier to develop property as well as adopting a new name. 

The councils are also voting to introduce a new $2.6 million grant from FEMA. This money will be used to acquire or elevate homes that have flooded frequently. 

The Parish Council is shifting money around to make ends meet at the parish jail. An ordinance up for vote would take $126,350 budgeted for a new body scanner at the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center and instead pay for outstanding invoices left unpaid from last year.