Archbishop blesses streets leading to controversial new retirement home

With a few words and a raised right hand, Archbishop Gregory Aymond on Friday blessed the pristine concrete of Judge Tanner Extension and Most Holy Trinity streets — two yet-to-be-completed roadways just north of Mandeville that will someday lead to a new church, a cemetery and a retirement community.

Construction could begin as early as January on the nursing home, assisted-living center and independent-living center that will make up the retirement component of the development, according to Sarah McDonald, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Construction on the church and parish center could start in February, she said.

It’s the retirement residences that have been a source of controversy among neighbors, some of whom see the 160-unit independent-living apartment building as a potential threat to their property values.

Homeowners along Dove Park Road, the northern border of the development, have posted signs in their yards saying the St. Tammany Parish Council failed to protect them from the development. Other signs castigate Councilman Marty Gould for allowing the project to go forward and refusing to meet with constituents on the issue.

Gould said Friday that the project will help alleviate area traffic problems.

“This cut-through takes traffic off of the 400 block (of Westwood Drive),” Gould said. Traffic studies have shown that about 2,800 cars pass through the area every day, he said, and the new road will give people coming from U.S. 190 another way to get through to Dove Park Road.

Gould brushed aside some homeowners’ charge that the senior-citizen complex will have a negative effect on property values.

“I don’t know of a better neighbor than elderly people,” he said. “They put no pressure on the school, no crime, and they don’t drive very much.”

He said he had no plans to meet with nearby residents to discuss the matter further.

Gould’s comments did little to mollify the handful of opponents who gathered on a street corner about a block away from the blessing ceremony.

“If this street would go all the way to (U.S.) 59, we would have no problem,” said Stephen Ligori, who lives in the Heatherstone subdivision. He said his main complaint is the lack of improvements to the roads surrounding the project.

Another resident, Bob McDaniel, said his property would be negatively affected by the senior-citizen center, and he criticized Gould for not sticking up for him.

“Every time he goes to work he drives in front of my house,” said McDaniel, who lives on Dove Park Road. He said there will be only a 15-foot buffer between his property and the archdiocese development, and people in the two-story senior residence will be able to see into his pool and backyard.

“I can’t ever enjoy myself without these people looking at me?” he asked.

Parish President Pat Brister acknowledged that some residents are upset, but she said the archdiocese has planned a “wonderful facility” for the area.

“We have done exactly what the (zoning) ordinance says,” Brister said. She also said the parish plans to widen Dove Park Road to help ameliorate concerns about increased traffic.

The project has been controversial for some time and seems likely to remain so.

Months after the Parish Council changed the zoning law to allow independent-living facilities in medical-residential zoning districts, yard signs decrying the decision still dot Dove Park Road.

Neighbors didn’t have a problem with plans to build a church, resident Terri Lewis Stevens said, but they are unhappy with the inclusion of a three-story apartment building for the independent-living portion of the development — something that they view as a backdoor way of allowing multi-family housing in an area that has historically been single-family.

The flap spurred the formation of Concerned Citizens of Covington, another example of a growing protest movement in St. Tammany that started with another land-use battle, over a waste-transfer station in Lacombe.

Aymond said the church will strive to be a good neighbor. “We think this is going to enhance the neighborhood and not be destructive,” he said. “There is a need for senior-citizen residences on the north shore.”

He added that the archdiocese respects the residents’ opinions and will do its “very best to be friendly and neighborly.”

The retirement community will be open to all faiths, Aymond said. It will have space for 210 total residents, including wings of independent, assisted and full-time care. The facility could be completed by late 2015.