On January 28 Judge Alvin Turner signed the Expropriation Order whereby Louisiana DOTD takes possession of 1.445 acres in the southeast corner of the intersection formed by the junction of Hwy 44 and Hwy 941/Loosemore Road. At the southern city limits of Gonzales, the intersection has long been a chokepoint for motorists on one of Ascension’s more highly traveled state roadways. DOTD intends to construct a roundabout just south of the intersection…
with a connection from Hwy 44’s northbound lane of travel to Hwy 941, eliminating a section of the latter. Motorists approaching Hwy 44 from Loosemore Road will be able to access the roundabout by a right turn onto the state highway.
Residents along the corridor have bemoaned traffic congestion for years. Those on Loosemore have lobbied DOTD and legislative representatives for a traffic signal at the four-way intersection which would be eliminated with that section of Hwy 941’s removal; unsuccessfully. And now those residents have, according to their Ascension Council representative, a new issue causing consternation.
“The former property owner (The Earl Dempsey Pendarvis, Jr. Living Trust) erected a solid fence along the eastern side of Hwy 44,” Councilman Joel Robert summarized several complaints he has received. “The fence obstructs the sight line for northbound drivers who can no longer see traffic on Hwy 941, jeopardizing the safety of motorists.”
Hwy 941’s access to Hwy 44 is controlled by a Stop Sign, as is Loosemore’s from the west.
“Since DOTD already expropriated the property, I cannot grasp why the state agency has allowed the fence to remain,” Robert added. “Judge Turner’s ruling seems pretty clear.’
It ORDERS Pendarvis “to vacate the above described property and surrender possession thereof unto Petitioner immediately upon the deposit of the estimated compensation into the Registry of the Court.” The explanation Robert received, Pendarvis not having been served with an official copy of the Expropriation Order, did not sit so well with the councilman. Particularly since Robert and Pendarvis exchanged pleasantries (and recriminations) last week in the presence of DOTD personnel and Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Deputies when the expropriation was discussed.
Pendarvis, miffed that Gonzales’ City Council denied his annexation bid on January 25, is sending a message to dozens of neighbors who opposed him at multiple Planning and Council meetings. Those opponents argued, often vehemently, in favor of maintaining the area’s rural character.
Pendarvis, post rejection, threatened to establish a pig/hog farm on the acreage. After all, what could be more rural than raising pigs/hogs?
DOTD would begin expropriation proceedings the day after Pendarvis’ annexation bid failed (it was the third time he petitioned for the property’s annexation into Gonzales). The most recent attempt came with a declaration that he had a commercial buyer on the hook, at one point claiming that Dairy Queen was interested in building a corporate office. Inexplicably, Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux supported the annexation.
CAO Scot Byrd cited economic benefits from those corporate office jobs even though all annexed property comes into the city under its most restrictive residential zoning category. Thus, no corporate office could be built unless and until Gonzales’ City Council approved an application to rezone the acreage to a commercial zoning category.
Critics viewed Pendarvis’ annexation bid as an attempt to enhance the property’s value and nothing else, accurately it seems in hindsight. Three city councilmen (Tim Riley, Harold Stewart and Tyler Turner) voted to deny the annexation.
DOTD filed its suit, State of Louisiana, Department of Transportation and Development versus The Earl Dempsey Pendarvis, Jr. Living Trust, on January 26. Two days later Judge Alvin Turner issued the order which required DOTD to deposit $172,187 into the Registry of the Court. The amount includes estimated value of 1.445 acres ($120,913), plus damages ($51,274).
The expropriation power is codified in Title 48 of Louisiana’s Revised Statutes, Articles 441-460. R.S. 48:444 envisions ex parte expropriation (without the property owner’s involvement or even notification). It reads:
“The petition shall conclude with a prayer that the property be declared taken for highway purposes. Upon presentation of the petition, the court shall issue an order directing that the amount of the estimate be deposited in the registry of the court and declaring that the property described in the petition has been taken for highway purposes at the time of the deposit.”
The property owner does have standing, and the opportunity, to argue the appropriate amount paid for the already expropriated property.