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Residents resist historic district designation as over-regulation

The residents of Mandeville, a town on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain in St. Tammany Parish, are anxious to preserve the historic character of their "old town" but not so anxious to have that protection infringe on their own property rights. The debate between town officials and the people they serve is one of many that Louisiana has seen over the years as a state with a rich cultural history. The parties have the same overall objective, but their differences could scuttle the plan altogether.

A study committee of the Mandeville Zoning and Planning Commission presented a draft ordinance for public input earlier this month. The proposal would designate Old Mandeville as a historic district and put a five-person preservation commission in charge of maintaining the district's character.

The public's response was not encouraging: For the most part, the comments were accusations of government overreaching. Perhaps the most polite criticism came from one Old Mandeville resident: "This ordinance is a pound of regulation," he told the commission, "when you only need a teaspoon."

What residents seem most concerned about is the extent of the preservation commission's authority. As presented, critics said, the ordinance would allow the commission to dictate paint colors for homes and the placement of fences in people's yards -- essentially, concerns that the commission would meddle in how the residents maintain and manage their private property.

Members of the planning commission and supporters believe the criticism is mostly the result of some misinformation circulating through town. And commissioners reiterated that the ordinance is only in draft form at this point; the purpose of the hearings, in fact, was to gather input that would result in an ordinance that would meet the needs of everyone in Old Mandeville. Plus, the ordinance as presented would only apply to new construction and to a handful of buildings that are more than 50 years old.

Residents were reluctant to listen, it seems. The commission will meet again after the holidays to finalize the ordinance before handing it over to the town council.

Source: The Times-Picayune, "Mandeville commission gets earful from citizens on plan for historic district," Kim Chatelain, Dec. 11, 2012

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