Volleyball courts on the bayou? Neighbors worry about toilets, ads and parking

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Karen Gadbois

Donated sand is destined for the courts, wherever they wind up.

Outlined in red, the property eyed for volleyball courts is owned by the Sewerage and Water Board.

Outlined in red, the property eyed for volleyball courts is owned by the Sewerage and Water Board.

A volleyball club that plays several times a week along Bayou St. John dreams of building regulation courts adjacent to the American Can apartment complex — if neighborhood resistance doesn’t spike the plan.

The site eyed by the Mid-City Volleyball Group runs along Jeff Davis Parkway between Orleans Avenue and Toulouse Street. A grassy strip of land owned by the Sewerage and Water Board, it is mainly used for parking during events along the waterfront, such as the annual Bayou Boogaloo.

According to minutes of the volleyball club’s May 2012 meeting, a get-together last year with representatives of the Sewerage and Water Board and an unnamed city official went well.

But as word of the club’s dream spreads, local residents are saying not so fast.

The minutes record that the Sewerage and Water Board encouraged the group to “develop a plan to build a volleyball facility in phases since we are clearly underfunded at this time.” The club’s cash reserves were listed as less than $10,000.

Donated sand is destined for the courts, wherever they wind up.

Donated sand is destined for the courts, wherever they wind up.

The water board’s deputy special counsel, Brian Ferrara, proposed a rent of $600 a month for the site, according to the minutes. ”Ferrara stated the site has to go out to bid but that the bid would be worded to limit the use of the site,” the minutes stated.

The Sewerage and Water Board did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Peter Hickman, the volleyball club’s prime mover, contends the site could accommodate up to five courts. But “we would probably only build two courts initially and grow slowly as we generate revenue.”

Last week, when the Sewerage and Water Board released the bid proposal for the property, the volleyball club was “shocked and disappointed,” Hickman said, to discover that the water board wants to lease the property a year at a time, not long term. It would take well more than a year for the group to recoup its initial investment, Hickman said, and so, “for economic reasons we are hesitant to submit a proposal.”

Eventually the site can be self-sustaining, Hickman said, noting that the club would be required to carry liability insurance.

Hickman said the club also needs “clarification from the Sewerage and Water Board to see if light poles can be installed on the property” for night games.

In February 2012, Michael DesJardins, former chairman of the Parkview Neighborhood Association, signed off on a letter of support for a volleyball facility, but at a different location.

Concerns about parking and impairment of the bayou’s esthetic appeal had soured the association on the site the club wants. “There is proliferate violation of the non-parking laws on the bayou itself. If this continues unabated, it will eventually destroy the very beauty of the bayou that people are attracted to in the first place,” DesJardins’ letter said. Conversion of the site to volleyball courts would only exacerbate the parking problem, he contended.

But DesJardins said the volleyball group’s cause might be furthered if neighbors could review their plans.

Funding, lighting, advertising and bathroom facilities are the concerns of Randy Richard, a Moss Street property owner who plans to build a house for himself directly across the bayou from the proposed volleyball courts.

Richard said he will be sending a list of questions to Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who represents the area.

After the recent Super Bowl, Guidry was instrumental in lining up some 20 truckloads of donated sand that now sit on the adjacent Lafitte Greenway awaiting a permanent home.  Hickman promises that wherever his group eventually ends up, the sand will be put to use creating their courts.

According to several individuals contacted for this story, Guidry has called various neighbors to a meeting in her office later this week to discuss the issue.

Guidry in a recent phone conversation said her office has no plans to convene a public meeting, characterizing her efforts on behalf of the Mid-City Volleyball Organization as support.

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