Allegations fly in dispute over proposed Murphy Oil rezoning case

Some residents of the Broadmoor, Cedarcrest-Southmoor, Runnymede and St. Regis Place subdivisions are frustrated over what they call a “misrepresentation” of their views regarding the proposed rezoning of a site at the corner of Old Hammond and Airline highways.

First, many residents say they were not made aware of the controversial request, which would require a rezoning of the property—located in the Old Hammond Highway overlay district—to allow for the construction of a Murphy Oil gas station. But when they learned of the plans after last week’s Metro Council meeting, they were stunned by certain information presented by developer Stern Development; specifically, a slide saying that “Homeowners Associations [and civic associations] representing 2,619 residents voted either to support or not oppose the project,” and that it has garnered support from the developer of Cypress Bend, which has 74 lots under development but few residents to date. 

“Lots of people were not even aware that this was going on behind the scenes,” says Cedarcrest resident Michelle T. Bouillon. “None of the residents of Cedarcrest had any say-so in our association’s statement, so what’s troubling to us is that this information was presented to the Planning Commission and the Metro Council as if we, the residents, were not opposed to it. But the majority of people I’ve spoken to are in complete opposition.”

Since then, neighborhood residents have been flooding the Nextdoor app to complain about the under-the-radar way the matter has been handled by various parties. It’s already become a highly politicized land use case, with high-powered, well-known legal representatives on each side. 

Representing the developer, Stern Development, is attorney Charles Landry, who argues that he and his client approached the issue through the standard, conventional political process, which includes going through subdivision leadership, asking their boards for the opportunity to deliver a presentation on the project and receiving their feedback—much of which was in fact positive, according to emails forwarded to Daily Report. He notes the low percentage of comments submitted to the Metro Council opposing the project, including those for Broadmoor (12 lots out of 2,000) and Cedarcrest-Southmoor (1 lot out of 205), among others.

“At no time did we ever suggest that all of the residents from every single one of these neighborhoods supported the project. I specifically acknowledged in my written remarks there was opposition,” Landry says. “There is absolutely no intention to mislead by the developer; there were two very public meetings, and we pushed for two deferrals to make sure the information had the opportunity to be disseminated.”

On the other side, attorney Mary Olive Pierson is representing Benny’s Car Wash, which, along with Jay Cullens and Mike Clegg, has been actively campaigning against Murphy Oil. However, Pierson denies Landry’s claims that Benny’s is funding the effort to stifle competition in the area, countering that her client is “taking the lead in informing residents about what’s happening.”

“Murphy Oil tried to sneak this in and they got caught,” Pierson says. “I don’t know how much money we’ve spent, but it doesn’t matter, because we’ll never be able to match what Murphy Oil will spend.”

In the proverbial middle is Council member Matt Watson, the Republican representing the overlay district, who is also running for mayor. Watson has disclosed he received a $1,000 campaign donation from Landry’s firm Fishman Haygood, but says he told Landry that if he wants his money back, he’ll return it.

Last week, Watson told Daily Report via text message that his vote would “represent the will of the residents,” but did not respond to a follow-up question asking him to elaborate. However, when reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Watson said he was “fully prepared to deny” the rezoning request at last week’s Metro Council meeting, but opted to vote in favor of a 60-day deferral because that seemed to be the will of the council, which voted 7-2 on the deferral.

“Either I would’ve voted against the deferral, lost and it would’ve been deferred 90 days as was originally proposed, or I could hasten the vote by amending it to a 60-day deferral,” Watson says. “I plan to vote against [the rezoning request], unless every resident has some change of heart. I always have, and I’ve made no bones about that.”

The council will take up the matter again at its Oct. 21 meeting.