LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - There is a new twist in a big zoning controversy. The chairman of the Lake Charles Zoning Commission is accused of breaking state law during a key meeting. It all centers around property behind Lumpkin Plaza off Nelson Road and the corner of Woodland Drive.
"Commericial and residential zoning can coexist in this city. The property will be strictly used for a parking lot for employees," explained Lumpkin. "It would not regress or egress onto Woodland Drive."
The Lake Charles Zoning Commission apparently agreed despite overwhelming opposition by residents and stakeholders. Lee Mallett is a local contractor and built four homes on Woodland Drive valued at $250,000. He believes property values would decrease with the parking lot.
"In November this was not recommended. In fact it was voted down four to zero. I know it called for two lots then, but just because it is smaller this time - it's still a parking lot. Nothing has changed," said Lee Mallett, local contractor.
"This was a different request. This was a much bigger request and there was access from residential street. Not tonight," said Powell Simth, Chairman of the Lake Charles Zoning Commission.
After leading the entire meeting last week, in a last minute move Smith recused himself when it was time to vote.
"We do not know why he recused himself. We've made requests from the city to get that in writing. We have not received any response as of yet," said Mallett.
"Whatever the reason for recusing yourself from the vote it certainly had to be good enough from even chairing the meeting or even attending the meeting," said Roger Young, Woodland Drive resident.
According to state law: Appointed members of boards and commissions may recuse themselves to avoid a violation of Section 1112. Unlike elected officials, they may not participate in the debate or discussion of the matter. They must recuse themselves from all participation.
Residents are set to file a complaint with the Louisiana State Ethics Board in Baton Rouge.
We spoke to Smith by phone and he released this statement: "The City Attorney is looking into the issue raised by the opposition."
Lake Charles City Attorney Billy Loftin said he is set to release an opinion to the city in the very near future. Meanwhile the recommendation by the zoning board is set to go before the city council at their regular meeting on March 21st.
"I would hope that we prevail. One we are dealing with elected officials and not appointed. I would also like to say this has never been done in Lake Charles. They have never taken a piece of property from residential to business use. I think it would be setting a precedent that would be bad fro the City of Lake Charles," said Mallett.
"The resident next door to this parking lot - she'll never be able to sell that house for its value. She'll never be able to rent it for it's value and I would imagine that is going to create a very cheap spot for someone to come and buy yet another residence and maybe turn it into a parking lot as well. And I see that whole process going on the entire north side of Woodland Drive to where it is all a parking lot," said Young.
Meanwhile Loftin also said even if there is an ethics violation investigation pending it would not impact the council discussing it at their March 21st meeting.