Rayne Council rezones property over owner’s protest
After about an hour and a half of discussion — and some name-calling among speakers — the Rayne City Council voted unanimously Monday night to change the zoning of property at 400 N. McGown St., despite objection by the owner of that property.
Two lots on the corner of North McGown and Lessley streets were rezoned from commercial (C-2) to residential (R-3) at the request of Sylvia Mouton, who lives at 310 N. McGown St.
Mouton explained to the council — and to the standing-room-only audience — that she filed the petition for rezoning to stop the owner, Nathan Joubert, from opening a lounge on the site.
Three businesses currently operate on the site: Joubert’s Palace (an event center), Apollo’s Restaurant and Apollo’s Store. The businesses are leased and managed by Lillian Senegal.
Senegal had recently applied for a liquor license for Joubert’s Palace, which would allow the sale and consumption of alcohol on the premises.
Approval of that permit, however, would make the establishment subject to the city’s 2 a.m. closing law. As an event center, activities at the facility end when the person or group renting it decide to end them.
Nevertheless, Mouton ticked off a number of reasons she said “a club would be detrimental to my neighborhood,” including noise, loitering and littering — all of which she characterized as “extremely ridiculous” already — lack of adequate parking and fights.
Joubert explained that he had purchased the commercial property in 2010 and opened the event center in 2011.
That was after that city administration voted unanimously to deny Joubert a liquor permit to open a lounge.
Joubert’s Palace has operated as an event center since then.
Joubert admitted that, when he first heard of the action to have his property rezoned by someone else, “I thought it was a joke. Evidently it wasn’t.”
Joubert presented a petition signed by 99 residents and owners or property within 500 feet 400 N. McGown, the majority of whom he said were either in favor of or had no objection to the opening of a lounge at the site.
“It’s not the whole neighborhood that don’t want it, just a few,” he said.
What followed was a parade of area residents, most of whom were not in favor of the rezoning and some of whom personally attacked Mouton — one calling her “a terrorist.”
Asked for his opinion, Police Chief Carroll Stelly said that, from Oct. 16, 2016, to April 24, 2017, officers have responded to 10 calls from Mouton concerning the event center.
Many times, Stelly said, no violations were found, though on at least one occasion Joubert was ticketed for loud music.
He went on to say that his department had assisted the state Department of Alcohol and Tobacco Control in an undercover investigation at Joubert’s Palace and that ATC has filed charges related to the sale of alcohol to underage patrons.
He added that, during the ensuing ATC raid, a .22-caliber pistol was discovered on the floor in the restroom of the facility. No one has claimed ownership of the weapons to date, he added.
The ATC case is still pending in 15th Judicial District Court, according to the chief.
Finally, Stelly presented a flier that had circulated in January advertising a “first annual Super Bowl party at Apollo’s Pool Hall” at 400 N. McGown.
The flier promoted beer and drink specials and a “5 p.m. until 4 a.m. after-party.”
Joubert said he had been unaware of the flier and did not know who had printed or circulated it, but assured that no alcohol was sold at the center.
He added that “everyone calls the center ‘Apollo’s Pool Hall’ because I have a couple of pool tables in there.”
Although the council voted 4-0 to rezone the property to a “residential” classification, Mark Daigle, city inspector, reminded that the existing businesses — the event center, the store and the restaurant — can continue to operate under the “nonconforming use” clause in the city ordinance until either they are closed for six months or until the property ownership changes hands.
Councilwoman Curtrese Minix was not present for the meeting.
In a related matter, Senegal’s application for a liquor license for 400 N. McGown was tabled pending Joubert’s “probable appeal” of the council’s decision.