LAFAYETTE, La. (IND) – Residents and business owners of Lafayette’s urban core gathered on the second floor of the newly renovated Lafayette Public Library Monday night for the District 3 City-Parish Council Forums where incumbent Brandon Shelvin, who is running for his third and final term, along with contenders Ursula Thompson, John Petersen and Patrick Lewis, took on questions regarding the future of Downtown Lafayette and the surrounding areas.
The candidates responded to several issues concerning District 3 and its denizens during the forum, which was moderated by Downtown Development Authority CEO Nathan Norris.
The neighborhoods surrounding Downtown will be greatly impacted by the proposed I-49 Connector, which is a high-speed elevated interstate. What is your vision for making sure that the neighborhoods are positively impacted by the I-49 Connector?
Lewis: “I support it and I think it’s a good idea. I would like to see a little bit more concrete plans that we are having. What would make them a lot better would be we could have more accessibility for the people that live there then also the people that’s working. We just need more furnished roads and better access to get there.”
Petersen: “I think it’s important to have a vision about what the process is going to be for making sure that the outcome is going to be as beneficial as it can be and how we can be proactive about it rather than reactive.”
Anderson: “I think that it would encourage local contractors to go ahead and assist with the I-49 Corridor and as a result it would boost our economy here in Lafayette and we could use those finances to expound on creating jobs and economic wealth and beautification for the neighborhoods.”
Shelvin: “This project in essence is probably going to cost close to $1 billion so we don’t have a whole billion dollars earmarked right now to complete that project as it sits, so we’re kind of piecemealing this together. Historically and traditionally, anytime you’ve had an interstate, highly elevated, near a community it has always created slums and ghettos, so this is something that I do not want that I will not support it if that’s what we’re going to do.”
The city of Lafayette is many times larger than any other municipality in Lafayette Parish, yet it is the only municipality that must subject itself to a council that consists of decision makers who do not live in the municipality because of the nature of the consolidated City-Parish Council. Do you think this is fair, and if not, what do you plan to do to fix this problem?
Petersen: “The simple answer is it’s not fair. We’re the only municipality in the parish and we’re the biggest. We’re the only one that doesn’t have independent decision making about what we do. I would be open to considering another commission to look at this problem, develop possible solutions, and then make recommendations.”
Anderson: “I am totally against it in that we are supposed to have a system of government where taxation is utilized with representation. I think that outside cities utilize a portion of our taxes and from there we have no control or no say so as far as where the money is spent.”
Shelvin: “I thought this was settled about four years ago when we voted on it. We had it on the ballot four years ago, we had formed a charter commission and the charter commission put on the ballot where we were trying to deconsolidate it. I supported it then and I still support it now.”
Lewis: “I feel that it is fair because of the home rule charter. We have to think about the unincorporated areas in Lafayette.”
Vacant lots and vacant homes undermine a community and serve as a financial expense as opposed to a revenue source for our community. Do you have any ideas on how we can speed the process of putting properties back into commerce that have been abandoned?
Anderson: “I would work to support some legislation with the redemption of time of when the owners of the properties are able to redeem their properties when they are notified. This would allow interested parties such as non-profits such as churches, individual institutions to purchase these abandoned properties and put them back into commerce.”
Shelvin: “When we first got onto the council in 2008, we were condemning and tearing down properties at a rate of about 1-3 properties a year; now we do about 2-4 a month. So we’ve been able to speed that process up when we get citizens’ complaints. We do have an issue where we do need to liquidate these properties and put them back into commerce where we start turning them back over to some of the neighborhood nonprofit organizations that are in that community where they can start putting them back into commerce.”
Lewis: “I just want to make sure that we all understand what adjudicated properties are. Once we understand then we can make a decision on how we are going to handle that problem. The right thing to do would be to keep it in the family or give it to private companies or a church or something like that to do something positive with it. Not just some business that comes here and decides that they’re going to do this and this and take it over. So we need to address that and we need to understand what it is before we make the decision on how we are going to address the adjudicated property.”
Petersen: “The reason adjudicated properties are important to address is because you can look at a progression map starting with one and then you’ll see that they grow around that one. So it’s a really high priority that we get a system in place that can get them back into commerce. It’s a good piece of progress that we’ve got legislation now that can change the time allowed for clearing liens and back taxes from 36 months down to 18 months. That’s a step in the right direction.”
Early voting takes place Oct. 10 with election day on Oct. 24.
[This article originally appeared in the March 2015 edition of The Independent and on TheIND.com.]