Thursday, January 2, 2014

Local Residents Oppose New Funeral Home in Highland **UPDATED**

Scroll down for updates from the meeting.

Shreveport's Metropolitan Planning Commission will hold a public meeting Thursday afternoon at 1pm to discuss the rezoning of Kings Highway and Highland Avenue which would allow a funeral home to move into the former Don's Seafood Restaurant.  
In attendance will be groups from the Highland Restoration Association as well as the South Highlands Neighborhood Association.

At issue is the zoning exception for the proposed funeral home that wants to occupy the site.

Jolinda Redding wrote a petition against the rezoning which is to be presented at the meeting today. The petition garnered 213 signatures.

Patterson Funeral Home wishes to reopen their business in the old Don's Seafood Restaurant building which has been sitting empty since Don's closed in 2008.  Patterson, a family run business, has been in operation in north Shreveport for many years but burned in August 2012.  The fire is still under investigation.

Highland residents cite traffic concerns as their main issue against the funeral home.  The building is in an historic neighborhood district but on a major local thoroughfare and on a corner across from a Brookshires grocery store, a Wendy's, and a service station.  While the property does have a large parking lot, residents are concerned about restricted access during funerals.  On the other hand, proponents suggest that even a funeral home is better than an empty building.  Business owner Rosalind Patterson-Nelson vows to be a good neighbor and says that her business will restore the historic landmark.

Also of of concern to neighborhood residents is the potential of reduced property values because of the funeral home.

The zoning meeting is at 1:00 today at 505 Travis Street.  KTBS will stream the meeting live on their website.

Update 3:10:  The commission took up the issue around 2:30.  Mrs. Patterson-Nelson spoke in favor of her proposal to open a funeral home at the Don's location and vowed to open a dialogue with the opponents so that issues may be resolved.

Matthew Linn spoke in opposition of the proposal.  Linn contends that the funeral home project is just not a fit for the residential neighborhood.  Linn dramatically asked his contingent, which consisted of both his residential and business neighbors, to stand in demonstration of the opposition and that took care of almost everyone in the room at that point.

Linn says the proposed business does not meet the required setbacks for this kind of business at this particular location.  Kings Highway is a B1 and B2 district, he states, not a B3 district for many, many blocks - at least as far as the Red River.  Kings Highway is a historic district and a natural highway for the neighborhood.  Funeral homes require a B3 zoning.

Linn was equipped with exhibits and excerpts of the law, letters from the Highland residents, the South Highlands resident organization, and the Broadmoor neighborhood association, the Gladstone neighborhood association, as well as letters from many residents.  Linn spoke of the quick notice of this meeting and noted the huge opposition that has quickly developed.

Kings Highway is one of the few east/west thoroughfares that serve our community, Linn noted, and he explained how traffic flows easily with the businesses currently in place.  Linn said that "no matter what direction" a funeral procession went from the funeral home, it would "bring traffic to a dead stop."  He cited Byrd High School traffic when school dismisses which would also come to a complete standstill in the case of funeral traffic.

Following Mr. Linn, Malcolm Murchison, a property owner, cited the growth of Byrd High School (the magnet program) and the I49 intersection as factors that have contributed to the bumper to bumper traffic on Kings Highway.  Mr. Murchison noted that there are seven exceptions that this zoning ordinance might be granted and this case meets none of them.

Next to speak in opposition was Arthur Carmody, Jr. who has lived in the area for 62 years.  He spoke of the fine architecture in the neighborhood.  He spoke of the inconvenience the funeral home would bring to the Chevron station on the southeast corner of the intersection, the Wendy's restaurant, and other businesses in the immediate area.  He vowed that the zoning exception would "open up a Pandora's box of problems."

John Odom spoke also on traffic congestion, specifically at the time when Byrd High School lets out.  There are 2900 students at the school and when school lets out at 3:00 traffic is bumper to bumper.  Creswell Elementary is also nearby, as is First Baptist Church which also has a K-6 school - also a huge traffic issue.  Also on Kings Highway is St. Marks Day School whose students are all picked up by parents.  Mr. Odom noted that here in Shreveport we have police escorts for funeral processions and citizens all pull over out of respect during funeral processions.  A funeral procession will create major traffic problems "in any direction," Odom explained.

Patty Pernici who operates the Chevron station spoke, and explained that at first glance she was glad to have a new neighbor occupy the long empty restaurant.  Mrs. Pernici contends that this is just "not the right neighbor."

A stream of other residents and neighbors spoke, including one whose home overlooks the funeral home. The view from his master bedroom and his son's bedroom would be the funeral home.  Another resident addressed the parking issue which has always been a problem when Byrd High School is in session, especially on Atkins street.  The quality of neighborhood life could be compromised - people walking dogs, children riding bikes, joggers, etc.  Residents from the South Highlands Association also spoke of the precedent this zoning change would set.  One resident lives across the street from the funeral home and says she wouldn't be able to get into her driveway during a funeral; she also noted Centenary College, the Gilbert street post office and the Circle K which only has a Kings Highway entrance.

At the conclusion of the speakers the commission asked all in opposition to stand and the entire room stood up with the exception of Mrs. Patterson-Nelson and her companion.  I wondered how it felt to be her with everyone in the room against you.

She spoke in rebuttal and said she had told her supporters not to attend because she was asking for a deferral, otherwise, she would have had people to speak in favor of her business.

And with that, the commission moved on to the next case.

Update:  No decision from the commission yet...still going on.

Photo via KTBS.

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