NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA, UNITED STATES, November 6, 2023 /EINPresswire.com/ — In litigation in the 22nd Judicial District Court for St. Tammany Parish (“STP”) citizens sought the right to appeal the decision of the STP Planning and Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) approving the “New Directions 2040 Development Plan” which had been developed by a consultant chosen by St. Tammany Parish Government (“STPG”). Parish officials refused to allow any appeals whatsoever. The Louisiana State First Circuit Court of Appeal has now ruled that there was a right to appeal and the challenges to the Development Plan will now continue.
In Orleans Audubon Society et al vs. The St. Tammany Parish Council et al, Docket No. 2023-CA-0195, Andrew Wilson, a Partner with Milling, Benson, Woodward law firm in Mandeville, Louisiana, appealed the denial of the right to appeal the decision of the STP Planning and Zoning Commission on behalf of his clients, the Orleans Audubon Society and numerous St. Tammany residents. The First Circuit reversed the actions of the 22nd Judicial District Judge and remanded the case for further proceedings. The cost of having to take the appeal were assessed to the defendants.
As to the details, many citizens had opposed the Parish Plan since its primary goal, which was not revealed until final approval, was to allow for the construction of 17,000 acres of 1 million sq. ft. warehouses to be built all along already over-burdened and dangerous Interstate 12 to receive and process the intermodal cargo from the Port of New Orleans. This would mean thousands more 18 wheelers on Interstate 12 in St Tammany Parish every month. In addition, thousands of acres of forest and wetlands would be bulldozed for the construction. This would also mean that P&Z which consists of non-elected, appointed members, could implement a multi-billion dollar economic decision that would transform idyllic St. Tammany Parish into a massive industrial transportation hub with little or no input from its citizens.
When 76 citizens attempted to appeal that P&Z decision to the Parish Council as is allowed by Parish Ordinance, the STP DA’s office of Warren Montgomery advised the citizens there would be no appeals as STPG officials had already decided ahead of time that there simply would be no appeals. So the DA barred any of the appeals by the 76 citizens as well as Orleans Audubon Society (OAS) who sought to do so. To justify this action, ADA Emily Couvillion had sent a letter to OAS attorneys with the DA’s legal analysis as to why there could be no appeals, essentially suggesting that the P&Z’s decision approving the Plan could not be appealed because it was a non-appealable policy or legislative decision despite the absence of any law to support this contention. In response, OAS and the citizens filed a Petition for Mandamus in the 22nd JDC seeking an Order requiring the STPG to docket the appeals.
The District Court, the Honorable John Keller, agreed with STPG that the P&Z decision was legislative, or policy oriented and was therefore not appealable, despite the fact that no such exception exists in the STP appeal Ordinance. The District Court did agree that the citizens had a good faith basis for challenging the decision, since state law required the STPG/P&Z to perform studies related to environmental impacts, drainage, traffic, fire-fighting capability, and water usage, etc., before implementing the Plan, but those studies never happened. To the contrary, the P&Z simply approved whatever STPG’s hand-picked consultant presented. But the Court’s acknowledgment of this statutory violation did not affect his decision as the Court still ruled that OAS and the citizens had no cause of action for mandamus.
OAS and the citizens appealed. The First Circuit Court of Appeal agreed that there was no law to support the actions of the DA and STPG. Based upon this reasoning the First Circuit held that the docketing of an appeal under the Parish appeal Ordinance is a non-discretionary ministerial duty so neither STPG nor the STP DA had the right to bar appeals and the ADA’s legal analysis justifying the denial of the citizens’ appeals was legally incorrect. The First Circuit then reversed the District Court and remanded for further proceedings which should essentially involve the issuance of a mandamus Order by the Court to allow the Appeals to proceed. If so, the 76 appellants will pursue their appeals to the STP Council. As there will be many new faces on the Council at this time, it is unclear what the outcome will be. If their appeals are denied, the appellants will then appeal to the 22nd JDC at which time they will raise the absence of studies to support the Plan, an issue which Judge Keller has already acknowledged is valid.
Andrew Wilson and the Milling Benson Woodward Firm often represent the interests of residents and businesses in Louisiana that seek to protect the natural environment of the State. Louisiana’s natural resources are key to not only the seafood industry, but also to tourism and recreational activities. Mr. Wilson has served as a consultant to the State of Louisiana on coastal restoration issues. He is an External Advisory Board Member for the LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio. Mr. Wilson has spoken at the Tulane Environmental Law & Policy Summit and numerous other environmental conferences. In addition to environmental work, he has extensive experience in maritime litigation. He is an active member of Fleet 7 of the National Rhodes 19 Class Association sailboat racing organization. Mr. Wilson can be reached at the Milling Firm (millinglaw.com) and by email: [email protected]