S. Bossier redevelopment plans still on hold awaiting federal ruling

Official design plan for Walker Place (Source: UL Coleman Companies).
Official design plan for Walker Place (Source: UL Coleman Companies).

SOUTH BOSSIER, LA (KSLA) - Plans to redevelop and beautify South Bossier remain on hold more than a year after a federal judge heard arguments in a lawsuit that will determine how the project moves forward as the city and the developer continue to wrangle over whether the city is doing enough to make it a reality.

South Bossier City neighbors have already seen changes to their community that resulted from a 2012 lawsuit settlement between developer UL Coleman Companies (ULCC) and Bossier City.

But further plans to spruce up the area can't move forward until U.S. District Judge S. Maurice Hicks issues a ruling on whether the city is fulfilling the requirements of that settlement agreement. The judge's decision has been pending since before Thanksgiving in 2015. 
ULCC imagines the future of South Bossier City will center around their mixed-use development. The developer's website for Walker Place boasts that it "will be a regionally exclusive destination for the ArkLaTex - giving over a million people their shopping place, dining place, entertainment, and go-to place."

According to court documents, the company dreamt up the development more than 10 years ago in 2003 but those plans have hit many bumps in the road since then.

ULCC claims city leaders assured them the development would have direct access to the Arthur Ray Teague Parkway. However, in 2006 the city council denied a parkway curb cut for the Walker Place Development and passed an ordinance preventing any further curb cuts without council approval.

In 2008, the developer took the city to federal court over the issue. The suit was settled four years later in 2012, at great cost to the city.

Rather than go to a jury trial, the city agreed to the following:

  • Pay the developer $6.7 million in damages
  • Reimburse the developer for $10.4 million in infrastructure costs
  • Build a park and pedestrian foot bridge that ended up totaling $5 million
  • Pay to redevelop certain portions of the city surrounding the development

The park and footbridge were completed in early 2016. But getting to this point took months of collaboration and disagreements in federal court between both parties, so much so Judge Maurice Hicks said in court in 2015, "The park and the bridge, thankfully, are about finished. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I might add."

Residents not privy to the difficulties of making the parks happen only see the finished product.

"It's making it look more lively for sure, it makes it look more happy. People are more active around this area," said Drew Webb.

The next big project as part of the settlement is for the city to spruce up areas surrounding the planned Walker Place development. Bossier City Engineer Mark Hudson testified in court the redevelopment designs include a pedestrian path and lighting, street trees, and irrigation.

The improvements would be overseen by a committee.

But that project came to a halt just before Thanksgiving in 2015, when ULCC took Bossier City to court once again. In that suit, the developer claimed the city was violating the terms of the 2012 settlement. ULCC feels the city's plan to redevelop South Bossier is not complete, calling it a "conceptual plan."

The developer also argued in court that the city was not allocating enough money to make the redevelopment districts a reality. They also claimed that - because the city is "doing as little as required to do by the court" - they are essentially killing their proposed Walker Place development and in turn saving $10.4 million in infrastructure costs.

In court in November of 2015, Coleman testified that city leaders haven't been collaborative with him.

"It's been a terrible process," Coleman said, adding that he believes the city's implementation plan to redevelop South Bossier "is not workable."

ULCC sees Bossier City's actions as a breach of their agreement and asking the judge to sanction the city and award damages, attorney's fees, and costs.

Bossier City argues they have followed the settlement agreement in good faith by setting aside $1.6 million plus another $300,000 to redevelop South Bossier City. According to court documents, the city says they've faced "a constant barrage of accusations whenever Coleman felt he was not getting his way." They argue disagreements over the redevelopment plan does not equal a breach of their agreement.

When it comes to the redevelopment plan, the city argues Coleman has "no right" to argue his recommendations are better.

Judge Hicks listened to both sides in a 2-day hearing, where at the heart of the issue is what South Bossier will look like in the future. 
Each side has very different visions.

At the end of the hearing, Judge Hicks said he needed to review the court transcript and would issue a ruling later.

Yet, 15 months later, the judge has still not made his decision.

Louisiana State University Law Professor John Devlin explained to KSLA News 12, more than a year is a long time for a judge to not make a decision. 

"Unless there are some extenuating circumstances," he said, speaking in general about the courts and not to any specifics regarding the case.

"Sometimes a judge will withhold a decision even after a hearing is held, either because a judge is not clear in his own head about how to rule and what the proper way to rule would be and that may require further research, further inquiries, further thought."

Federal judges are not held to any particular deadlines to issue a ruling.

"There can be some - not pressure - but if a judge is slow as a regular matter or is unreasonably slow in a particular case, the chief judge of that district may come and talk to him and tell him, 'You really need to get this over with.'"    

The way the system is designed, Devlin says, no outside agency can influence the judge to make a decision.

Article 3 section 1 of the constitution sets up a mechanism by which federal judges are appointed for life. Once appointed, they cannot be removed from office except by impeachment by Congress.

"The purpose is to make judges immune from political pressure to make sure they can make their decisions based on facts of the law before them and not have to respond to any outside influences.

Under the Civil Justice Reform Act, the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts releases biannual reports containing the number of bench trials and motions that have been pending for 6 months or longer on the national and district level. Judges are required under the act to submit information about those pending cases.

"The mere fact that the judge has to put that on his report is in itself a little bit of pressure I suspect."

KSLA News 12 searched Judge Hick's record in the Civil Justice Reform Act report to see if taking more than a year to issue a ruling on a motion is typical for him.

As of March of 2016, the report reveals Judge Hicks had taken over six months to issue a ruling on 12 different motions. His reasons ranged from voluminous transcripts to be read, the complexity of the case, to heavy criminal and civil caseload.

At the time, he was only second to Judge Donald Walter for the highest number of pending rulings over six months among the western Louisiana district judges.

However, the ULCC motion against Bossier City was not listed because when the report came out in March of 2016, the motion had only been pending for four months. The September 2016 report will be released in May of 2017, that report is expected to include the motion along with the reason Judge Hicks gives for not issuing a ruling on it.

"A year - a year and a half - is an unusually long length of time to withhold a decision," said Devlin.

While the redevelopment plans are on hold, a UL Coleman representative explained plans for the Walker Place project are not. The company is continuing their efforts to lease space in the future development and working through the design process for the development that promises to make South Bossier a destination.

The green signs advertising the development were taken down on the property. New ones with new branding will go up in its place. 
Attorneys representing both ULCC and Bossier City declined to comment.

Judge Hicks is bound by a federal judge code of conduct that prevents judges from giving public comment on any case.

Click here to read meeting minutes from the November 19-20, 2015 court hearing:

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