|Councilman Brandon Shelvin and developer Glenn Stewart
have been working to get Lafayette taxpayers to fund the
prep work for Stewart's next development.
A shelved ordinance transferring $200,000 from a northside drainage project to a ritzy south Lafayette development may not break any laws, but it stinks to high heaven. It also casts a light on an unlikely relationship between vastly different men — Lafayette City-Parish Councilman Brandon Shelvin and developer Glenn Stewart — forged in a common crucible: past battles with this newspaper.
In fact, Shelvin and Stewart have become so close in recent months that Shelvin's girlfriend was seen cruising around town in one of the former physician's luxury vehicles.
Ordinance 275, approved with a batch of introductory ordinances two weeks ago by the City-Parish Council, was co-sponsored by Shelvin, who represents District 3 in north Lafayette, and District 7 Councilman Don Bertrand, who represents the area adjacent to the Camellia Boulevard/Starling Lane property owned by the Saloom family — the very site of Stewart 's planned hotel and related retail projects. (In city-parish documents for rezoning the land, the applicant seeking the rezoning is identified as “Saloom-Stewart.” According to records at the Lafayette Parish Assessor’s Office, the Salooms still own the land.)
But Shelvin and Bertrand decided to pull the ordinance from the Dec. 18 agenda. Bertrand tells IND Monthly that he and Shelvin have decided that a drainage impact analysis should be conducted first.
“When I first got [the ordinance] I thought it was a little odd that somebody would be wanting to spend some money in my district,” Bertrand says. “Of course, I’m not going to turn him away. But if there is something that’s going to be spent from the public funds, we have to make sure that the need is warranted.”
So who will foot the bill for the drainage impact analysis, which according to Bertrand will cost upwards of $5,000?
“I’m guessing right now both [LCG and the developer] could be affected, depending on how broad the study is,” Bertrand says. In other words, Lafayette taxpayers may be forced to pay part of the cost for the study, which is expected to be undertaken sometime in early 2013.
That doesn’t square with Bruce Conque, a former city-parish councilman who currently serves on the planning commission and deals with developers on a routine basis. When asked in an email who is required to pay the cost for such analyses, he responded, “Whomever is the owner or developer of the property.” That would be the Salooms and/or Stewart.
A former member of the pre-consolidated Lafayette City Council, whose tenure on the council goes back 20 years and who was uncomfortable being identified for this article, tells IND Monthly the drainage issues in the Walker Road area were on the council’s radar two decades ago. Yet, the councilman for that district, Shelvin, wanted to yank $200,000 from the Walker Road project and spend it on the affluent south side for the benefit of a developer.
And the $200,000 was just for an engineering study to determine the cost of enclosing the coulee that runs across the property where Stewart plans to build his hotel and satellite retail developments; the cost of the actual project will be many-fold greater than the cost of the engineering study.
A large swath of the land, shaped like an upside-down tomahawk, was rezoned from Business Transitional to Business General-Conditional in February 2010 when Stewart’s plans for Parc Lafayette were much more grand. The condition placed on the rezoning was that the parcel only be used for a hotel. The BG(c) zoning remains in effect. On Nov. 27 of this year the council approved rezoning most of the rest of the parcel from BT to BG, save for a swath on the north rim that will serve as a buffer between the development and a nearby subdivision of town homes.
Remember that in 2010 Stewart was thwarted, largely by public sentiment, in establishing a tax increment financing district in that area to help fund the cost of the infrastructure necessary to begin construction on Parc Lafayette. His battles with the Tea Party of Lafayette over the issue were legend, and the the ordinance establishing the TIF district was ultimately pulled. So Stewart scaled back his grand plans for a luxury hotel and convention center and bided his time. And in forging a relationship with Shelvin, he has attempted to find a way to get Lafayette taxpayers to spring for an engineering study and, ultimately, a public works project on the site costing millions of dollars and paid for by John Q. Taxpayer.
Most telling of all, this relationship between the developer and councilman is more than cozy: for weeks Shelvin’s live-in girlfriend, Justine Sampy, was tooling around Lafayette in a 2008 Mercedes-Benz CL550 Coupe, a luxury car that MercedesUSA.com values at $103,600. That car, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, is registered to none other than Glenn Stewart.
Sampy worked until about a month ago as an exotic dancer (going by the name "Diamond") at Crazy Horse Cabaret in Gonzales, although this newspaper is unable to confirm if she is still employed as a stripper. IND Monthly obtained photographs of the Mercedes parked at the Monarch Drive house in Lafayette shared by Shelvin and Sampy.
The decision to pull the ordinance transferring $200,000 from the Walker Road project to conduct the engineering study on the Saloom-Stewart project was driven by Bertrand, who became increasingly aware of the muttering among members of a Lafayette political class suspicious of the relationship between Shelvin and Stewart and dubious about the need to transfer $200,000 from the Walker Road Drainage Improvements Project and funnel it to a coulee on the south side where a rich developer wants to build a hotel.
“I know who they are and I know exactly what their concerns are, which is why I said to Brandon, ‘You have to have that drainage study first or you can’t even do it,’” Bertrand says. “Number one, it has to show a public need.”
|Stewart's Mercedes, above left, parked at Shelvin's Monarch Drive home; Sampy, above right, at
Shelvin's January swearing-in ceremony.
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