Bill would expand, restructure North Lafayette Redevelopment Authority

Image courtesy Visit Baton Rouge

State Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette, has sponsored a bill that would extend the reach of the nearly defunct North Lafayette Redevelopment Authority parishwide, while expanding it from residential-only redevelopment to commercial and industrial development as well.

“This will be a great tool to help us develop North Lafayette,” Pierre tells The Current. “What we’re hoping to do is to create new jobs in health care and, hopefully, in manufacturing, tourism, military and warehousing, so people will want to come and live here in North Lafayette.” 

The initial law creating the NLRA was enacted in 2008, sponsored by then-state Sen. Don Cravins Sr., according to Pierre, who says the purpose of his own bill, HB519, is “to rewrite some things to get it working again.”

The seemingly no-lose idea is not without controversy, however, because HB519 would strip the Lafayette mayor-president of the power to appoint one member of the seven-member NLRA board, giving that power to the mayor of Carencro instead.

The existing law also allows the state representative for District 96 — which currently encompasses southern Lafayette and northern Iberia parishes — to appoint a board member. Pierre’s bill would replace the District 96 representative with the Lafayette chapter of the Louis A. Martinet Legal Society, even though state House District 36 includes much of northern Lafayette Parish, including Carencro. It is currently held by Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro.

Two board members would still be appointed by the state senator representing District 24, currently Democratic Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, and one by the state representative for District 44, which now is Pierre himself. The other two would be appointed by the Lafayette City Council members representing Districts 1 and 5, the majority Black districts.

Pierre insists that stripping the Lafayette mayor-president of a board appointment was not a personal or partisan move aimed at Mayor-President Josh Guillory, a Republican. 

“It has nothing to do with the [current] Lafayette mayor-president,” Pierre says. “We think Carencro is more closely aligned to the area and has the tools we need to get things done. They brought in the new Amazon facility and the new FedEx facility.”

Pierre says giving appointment power to the Martinet Legal Society instead of the District 36 state representative “will help us with a lot of the legal matters that will have to be made for the authority.”

It is a political fact of life that Pierre will need Republican support to get HB519 to the governor’s desk. He’s confident his GOP House colleagues from Lafayette will back the bill.

“The Republican delegation understands that we’re dealing with a lot of blight, and trying to bring in business and industry will be good for all of Lafayette,” the state representative says. “I’ve received no pushback from Republicans.” 

The bill was referred to the Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs Committee but has not been scheduled for a hearing. 

Neither Boudreaux nor Emerson returned repeated telephone and email requests for comment on the bill.

Kevin Blanchard, who took over last May as executive director of the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority, which also works in community redevelopment, says the NLRA’s boundaries will make the authority a bigger and more effective player. “It’s a positive step to take it [NLRA] parishwide. The current legislation puts Lafayette behind other cities of our size,” says Blanchard.

The NLRA board has essentially been moribund for seven years, according to Blanchard. “So it’s good to have some momentum going. One of the things we’re looking at is developing some businesses on the Northside,” he says. “You want a redevelopment authority that can be a partner to that type of redevelopment work. It will take some time and energy to get it up and running again.” 

Melinda Taylor, longtime executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Lafayette, says she hopes a revitalized NLRA will benefit Habitat by relieving it of some of its cumbersome legal costs in trying to return properties orphaned with hefty liens to use.

“What we’ve been doing is applying for and clearing title on property that needs work,” Taylor says. “We’ve paid out quite a lot of money. A redevelopment authority would be like a clearinghouse. As a nonprofit we’re one of those organizations that can apply for donations of adjudicated property, but the burden is on the applicant if you want clear title.”

Taylor says it usually costs $2,000-$3,000 just to send out notices through a conservator as part of the title search process. 

“It [NLRA] would alleviate a lot of the legal work,” she notes. “That’s what our hope is anyway.”

During her 21 years at Habitat, Taylor says she has seen 130 homes refurbished. 

“I believe the proposed North Lafayette Redevelopment Authority would be a tremendous benefit to the community, particularly with respect [to] removing present obstacles related to quieting title on abandoned or adjudicated properties,” says attorney R.J. Fonseca, the local Habitat board president, in an emailed response.

“The Bill allows for an expedited title clearing process, which will remove this burden from private sector and nonprofit entities already engaged in redevelopment efforts,” Fonseca continues. “If there is a genuine concern in North Lafayette’s redevelopment, which will benefit every corner of this Parish, then this bill should be enacted.”