CADDO PARISH, LA (KSLA) - When Caddo and Bossier voters approved a tax renewal in April for the Caddo-Bossier Port Commission, they essentially gave the port the green light to move forward with its plan to expand by buying 3,000 acres.
But the move toward industrial development in residential areas is causing headaches for some homeowners.
Commissioners say they need the land to attract big industries to create jobs. But the property they are looking to buy is concerning for neighbors nearby.
"We all feel that the area we live in is going to be affected by this quite seriously," George Carroll said.
He and his neighbor Joe Johnson actively campaigned against the tax renewal.
"So as far as I'm concerned, the tax issue is done. What my goal is now is what it has always been, protection of private property rights," Johnson said.
They have a personal stake in what the commission does because their homes in the Hart's Island area literally are surrounded by port land.
"It is too late for us, we are surrounded by the port," said Johnson.
The land known as the Cupples property is the port's largest available tract, port documents show. But because it is zoned residential-agriculture, big industrial companies can't use it, a key reason the port is looking elsewhere to expand.
"We need to see when the next shoe is fixing to drop, as far as what the board is going to do in our area," Carroll said.
The port has completed a land expansion study. Candidate sites C and E back right up into residential neighborhoods and, in some cases, surround the front and back of individual homes.
Johnson and Carroll have reached out to those communities with the news.
"We want to let them understand what could be coming to them," Johnson said.
Gloria Raines lives in Pepper Ridge, a community that borders land the port is eyeing.
"Just about everything in this map is concerning to me," she said while looking at the port's land expansion map. "We are not talking about 3 to 4 houses, we are talking about hundreds and hundreds of homes that would be impacted."
It's hard to see how many neighborhoods are in the area looking at it from Highway 1, Raines explained. "Under all the trees are homes, lots and lots of homes," she said, pointing across a field.
The port's potential properties are not far from several homes and edges of neighborhoods like Twelve Oaks and Pepper Ridge.
"When people say 'Not in my backyard,' see that plowed ground? That is how close it comes to these houses," Raines said, pointing to homes surrounded by potential port property.
If the port buys the land, Raines plans to fight any zoning changes, the same way Johnson and Carroll did years ago,
Their homes haven't always been surrounded by port land.
Port documents we received through a public records request show the port bought the 247-acre tract from former port Commissioner Milton Williams in 2009 for $2.6 million.
Both neighbors say they felt blindsided by the purchase. "We never received a phone call, didn't even know it was for sale," Johnson explained. "But immediately they moved to zone it heavy industrial, what that is is smoke stack operations, 24/7 right beside our homes."
According to Metropolitan Planning Commission meeting minutes from 2011, people living in the Hart's Island community protested and submitted a petition to the MPC opposing the port's application to rezone the land for industrial use.
The MPC asked the port to revise its site plan to better protect the neighbors. The port submitted new plans including buffers between its land and the neighborhood. The MPC then approved the recommendation. The Caddo Commission never voted on it; therefore, the zoning never changed.
The neighbors plan to fight again if the issue resurfaces. "If necessary, I'll file lawsuits and go all the way to the Supreme Court. I am not going to be run over and bullied like that," said Johnson.
Raines said her neighbors slowly are becoming aware of the port's expansion plans. "Every phone call I've gotten and every person I've been in contact with is just as upset and concerned as I am."
Concerned homeowners filled the seats at a recent Port Commission meeting. They showed up to learn about what's happening next and speak up about their concerns. "There will be a lot of scrutiny and a lot of oversight from the community," Carroll said, explaining why the homeowners attended the meeting.
Port Executive Director Eric England encourages neighbors to reach out to the port with questions. KSLA News 12 asked him to respond to the concerns he's heard so far.
"Citizens have made their concerns to us known to us about smoke stacks and the perception of those type of industries can be overcome with a simple drive to the port," England said.
He says the types of industries they will be recruiting will be similar to what is currently at the port. As for buying the land, the commission won't move forward with seriously looking at the land that borders the neighborhoods for at least another year, until the Highway 3132 extension route is set in stone. "We are just in the early early stages. so if citizens have concerns to let us know whether individually or in a public meeting," said England.
The year-long delay doesn't make Raines feel any better. "If I was a port commissioner, I would want to play a waiting game, hoping all of these irate neighbors will just settle down, forget about it and go away, which of course no one is going to do," said Raines.
As for the Hart's Island community, Johnson feels like they have existed in a state of limbo ever since learning of the port's purchase near their homes.
They feel like they constantly have to guard against the rezoning of the land. "It is exhausting, but we are going to continue doing it. We are not stopping. Period. We are not giving up," he said.
Johnson and Carroll, along with neighbors in the communities possibly affected vow to keep a sharp eye on what the Port Commission does moving forward.
We're told the process of buying the land doesn't happen overnight. First the port has to study and identify specific expansion areas, they've already done that. Then they have to meet with the landowner and appraise the site. Once a price is agreed upon, then the port has to learn more about the land with environmental and other studies.The whole process takes several months.