BREAUX BRIDGE -- A public hearing on a new set of zoning ordinances a decade in the making started with a packed house Tuesday night, but half the audience walked out in a huff after officials declined to discuss in detail the issue of mixed usage in the historic downtown area.
The exchange grew testy at times, with much of the acrimony aimed at Dr. Dennis Ehrhardt, the UL Lafayette professor hired by the city to rewrite the ordinances.
At one point, Ehrhardt offered to walk out himself, saying "I'm not going to work for the City of Breaux Bridge again."
This was after Richard "Dickie" Breaux, founder of Cafe des Amis and a spokesman for the dissenting group, trailed the others out the door, saying to Ehrhardt in parting, "You're much too rude to be on my payroll."
City official Randy "Crip" Cormier, sitting in the audience, apologized for the behavior of the departing group, saying, "These people that came in here weren't born and raised in Breaux Bridge."
Indeed some of the group that gathered at the Coffee Break a block away while the meeting continued on were relative newcomers, including entrepreneurs partly responsible for revitalizing Breaux Bridge's downtown. Others, though, like Liz Simon, Ed Breaux, Virginia Yongue and Ray Pellerin, are in fact native to Breaux Bridge.
The issue that had attracted many in the group, allowing residences in the downtown commercial zone, was not on the agenda for the meeting, said Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Joe Pearson.
Pierson said the discussion Tuesday night was strictly limited to issues involving residential areas of town.
Both Pearson and Ehrhardt, who shared duties presiding over the meeting, declined to go into detail about the proposed new ordinances, saying that an electronic copy is and has been available at City Hall.
"I think citizens bear some responsibility for getting information," Pearson said.
Ricky Calais, a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission and a former city councilman, said reading the document was not enough.
"I had a problem comparing what it is to what it would be," he said. "After 16 years on the council, I kept confusing myself in some areas."
Chad Theriot, a local computer programmer, said he was in the process of highlighting changes in the document on a volunteer basis.
One apparent change that had drawn notice were restrictions on downtown residences that might tend to stifle the city's growing artists' colony.
Breaux noted that Breaux Bridge's vibrant downtown, which appeared more or less spontaneously, attracts big crowds of tourists most weekends.
But Pearson and Ehrhardt said the public hearings over the proposed new laws were purposely separated into residential and commercial issues, and that this meeting was to be about strictly residential issues such as lot sizes and setbacks. Residences in a commercial zone fall under commercial issues, they said.
The meeting dealing with commercial issues is set for Tuesday, Feb. 17.
It will be, one observer predicted, a thorough hearing of "new urbanization" vs. "the old way of zoning," and perhaps at another level, old Breaux Bridge vs. new Breaux Bridge.
Expect standing room only.