Plan to gate sidewalk through private subdivision stirring concern in Southdowns

    A plan to close public access to a sidewalk that runs through Stanford Oaks subdivision and connects Cloverdale and Stanford avenues isn’t sitting well with some Southdowns residents, who will lose a popular pedestrian shortcut to the nearby LSU lakes.

    In June, the Stanford Oaks Property Owners Association voted to gate the sidewalk, which has been open to the public since the 5.4-acre subdivision was developed beginning in 2011.

    “How upsetting?!?” wrote one Southdowns resident on her neighborhood’s website. “Is this really allowed?”

    Actually, it is. The subdivision is private, and its streets and sidewalks are privately maintained by the residents of the 13-lot development. Though the city-parish had to approve the location of a gate restricting vehicular traffic to one direction through the subdivision, no waiver or special permission was or is required to close the sidewalk, Planning Director Frank Duke says.

    “The sidewalk is private property,” Duke says. “There is nothing I can do. If they don’t want people walking on their property, they’ve got a right to tell them no.”

    In a written statement, the SOPOA board of directors says the subdivision “is and always has been designed and marketed by the developer as a private gated community. … Every homeowner chose to purchase their lot based on the knowledge and understanding that it was to be gated.”

    According to a copy of the Stanford Oaks Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions obtained by Daily Report, the POA “ … has the right (but not the obligation) to construct and maintain an access gate. …”

    The board’s statement also explains that the decision to install a gate now after so many years came about as a result of multiple “ … incidents based on criminal activity and nuisance concerns. …”

    Developer Scott Bardwell, who lives in Stanford Oaks but is not on the SOPOA board of directors, could not elaborate on what those incidents were. He says he “does not endorse the gate but I live in the community and I respect it.”

    The dispute may seem like a small neighborhood concern, yet it speaks to the larger issue of a city regularly criticized for its lack of walkability and connectivity.

    Southdowns resident Rob Treppendahl says he understands the concerns of his neighbors in Stanford Oaks, but the lack of sidewalks and bike paths through Southdowns means he and his pregnant wife will be driving to the LSU lakes for their evening walks.

    “It’s a private sidewalk and they have every right to do it,” Treppedahl says. “But it’s unfortunate to lose a pedestrian walkway. We can’t very well hop on a bike and scoot down Hyacinth Street and pray we don’t get hit by a car.”

    Duke agrees the situation raises broader concerns the city-parish should look into. For now, he says Stanford Oaks meets the letter of the law, as it allows for vehicular access on both Stanford and Cloverdale avenues.

    With respect to the sidewalk, Duke says, “I agree that blocking it off runs counter to a lot of planning theory about walkability and connectivity. But there’s nothing in the plans that prohibits them from gating the sidewalk.”

    —Stephanie Riegel

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