Residents sue city over Medline rezoning

MEDLINE PROPERTY – The large, empty tract of property along Vinyard, near Industrial Park Road, remains controversial a month after city officials granted its rezoning to light industrial, allowing Medline Industries to move forward with placing a 650,000 square-foot-facility on the previously residentially zoned property. Neighbors of the land filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the City of Hammond, the mayor, the council and planning commission, where the 21st Judicial Court System was petitioned to appeal the rezoning and grant a permanent injunction.

The City of Hammond maintains its course with welcoming Medline Industries permanently to the area, despite being slapped with a lawsuit this week by residents over the property’s rezoning.

City attorney Andre Coudrain said that there is no request for an immediate injunction to stop development on the property.

“As far as the city is concerned, the city intends to move forward with any applications for site plan review and any applications in connection with use of the property,” Coudrain said.

New Orleans attorney Robert J Ellis Jr. represents the eight Tangipahoa Parish residents who filed the lawsuit with the 21st Judicial District Court on Jan. 5 against the City of Hammond, its mayor, its city council, and its planning and zoning commission. As part of the lawsuit, plaintiffs are petitioning the court to appeal the city council decision and grant permanent injunction after the trial.

Plaintiffs include Courtney Forbes, Richard Vicaro, Tom and Ginger Daughdrill, Tommy Schwartzmann, Michael and Cynthia Blessing and Jane Bretschger.

According to the lawsuit, plaintiffs argue that the city government, acting through the city’s council, mayor and planning and zoning commission, abused its discretion, acted arbitrary and capricious and in violation of applicable laws, codes and the Comprehensive Master plan by adopting the rezoning.

All four members of the council who voted in favor of the property’s rezoning – Carlee Gonzales, Devon Wells, Sam DiVittorio and Steven Leon – are listed in their official capacity as party defendants, along with Mayor Pete Panepinto in his official capacity.

Attorney Andre Coudrain will be representing these party members, as well as other party members, City of Hammond and Hammond Planning and Zoning Commission, in the suit.

According to the lawsuit, plaintiffs request that after judgment is granted in their favor that the rezoning ordinance becomes invalid, unenforceable and implementation prohibited. Plaintiffs ask that the previous residential zoning be reestablished and a permanent injunction of the recently granted industrial rezoning be issued after the trial.

“I believe the Hammond City Council and the zoning commission acted appropriately and gave consideration to all of the public comment in support or opposition when it made its decision,” Coudrain said. “It was a reasonable decision to be made in considering the best interest to the city as a whole.”

Coudrain received a copy of the file Friday morning. He is working on answering the lawsuit and expects the answer to be filed within a week or so.

While the city deals with litigation, Medline Industries remains out of it and instead continues with plans for their new distribution center.

“We’re planning to start construction at the first quarter of this year,” said Jesse Greenberg, Medline spokesperson.

The City of Hammond agreed last month to Round Table Investment LLC’s request to have the 41.75 acres at 2100 Industrial Park Road rezoned from residential to light industrial after a lengthy process, which included public meetings where residents voiced numerous complaints and restarting the process after notification signs were discovered to be too small.

Befpre setting its eyes on Tangipahoa Parish, Medline Industries planned to build its new distribution center in St. Tammany Parish.

After facing a number of obstacles moving ahead with that property, the company moved on to the Hammond property, downsizing its original plans from 800,000 square feet to 650,000 square feet.

Medline Industries agreed to a number of stipulations, which were written into the rezoning during its Hammond City Council passing, to alleviate the new distribution center’s impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.

Among the many conditions were Medline contributing money to a round-about and drainage project for the surrounding area, increasing its berm size, agreeing to landscaping and setbacks, installing a pedestrian path on the westside of Industrial Park Road, and increasing the size of a drainage retention pond to be capable of withstanding a 500-year flood.

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