Mayors say Smith a good neighbor

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 20, 2000

Project cost estimates and citizen concerns may be an issue in Concordia Parish, but Baton Rouge developer Craig Smith has been a good neighbor to other towns where he has built apartments, according to those towns’ officials.

&uot;To this day, (the apartments are) clean, and it appears to have served its purpose, creating housing that’s needed,&uot; said attorney Gene Horne, who was mayor of Centreville, Miss., in 1990, when Smith built the Pine Tree Apartments there.

&uot;They have trouble keeping a manager, but there haven’t been any other problems with it, and it has furnished housing for a lot of people,&uot; said St. Joseph Mayor Whit Jones, referring to St. Joseph Square, which Smith built in the early 1990s just outside the town.

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On Aug. 28, Concordia Parish Police Jury is set to consider issuing Smith a permit for a 40-unit, low-income apartment complex Smith wants to develop on Lincoln Road just outside Ferriday. But since Smith presented his plans to local officials two years ago, the project has been steeped in controversy. In 1998, the Concordia Parish Police Jury voted to oppose the development due to citizen concerns about crime, sewer and water service and traffic. The Ferriday Town Council then denied a request to provide sewer and water service to the project due to concerns it would overtax such systems. The council finally gave its approval in July.

In that meeting, the jury voted to delay its vote for two weeks until Parish Engineer Bryant Hammett could review plans for Villa Apartments to see whether any changes have been made. That is due to recent changes in the estimated cost of the project from $1.881 million to $1.725 million – due, Smith said, to an architect’s error.

&uot;We want to double-check those figures … to make sure everything’s in order,&uot; said jury President Charlie Blaney.

&uot;I plan to attend the (Aug. 28) public hearing with my attorney, … and I&160;expect to receive my permit,&uot;&160;Smith, who is also an attorney, said after the jury’s Aug. 14 meeting.

Smith would not comment on his background in real estate when contacted Wednesday, instead referring questions to his attorney, David Guerry, who could be reached for comment.

But Smith is no stranger to either real estate developments or the governmental process it takes to make them happen, according to the Robert West, a Louisiana-based official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development.

Since 1978, Smith has developed about 45 housing complexes in Louisiana and Mississippi, according to USDA files.

Officials in many of the towns and parishes West listed as the sites of such development in the past decade did not recall Smith, including officials in and around such towns as Simmesport and Newellton. &uot;Most of the projects that come to us for funding are low-income, but I&160;don’t know that all of those were,&uot; West said.

West described Smith as &uot;businesslike, very professional in the few conversations I’ve had with him.

&uot;Any time we asked for anything like paperwork, he’s had it to us right away.&uot;

&uot;I’ve never had any problems with him,&uot; said Jones, adding that that town furnishes water, natural gas and sewer service to the 32-unit St. Joseph Square Apartments complex.

That does not mean Smith’s plans have never met with opposition, however.

Horne said that when the Pine Tree development was being considered by the Centreville Board of Aldermen, those living near the proposed site came to board meetings to voice their concerns, which included a possible rise in crime.

So Horne visited an apartment complex Smith had developed in Jackson, La., to see firsthand what type of complexes Smith developed.

&uot;The one there appeared to be clean and well-run,&uot; Horne said. &uot;So when the board tied on whether to issue (Smith) a permit or not, I cast a tie-breaking vote to give (the permit) to him.&uot;

In recent weeks, two burglaries have taken place in the neighborhoods near Pine Tree Apartments, &uot;but I don’t know that it’s anything you could attribute to those apartments.&uot;