By Chris Butler | Louisiana Watchdog
Let’s imagine Lucy from the old “Peanuts” cartoon strip decided to perch her famous psychiatry booth in front of her house, which we’ll imagine was in Shreveport.
The Caddo Parish Metropolitan Planning Commission might lay the smackdown on her with a cease-and-desist letter for having a commercial venture in a residential neighborhood, assuming her booth was a permanent structure.
As faithful “Peanuts” readers may recall, Lucy charged five cents for her often useless advice.
Now imagine a real-life Shreveport man setting up a similar structure in his own neighborhood, except he’s set up a Little Free Library for he and his neighbors to exchange books.
Ricky Edgarton told Louisiana Watchdog he doesn’t make a cent from his makeshift library.
Caddo Parish officials, however, still regard it as a commercial enterprise and last month sent a cease-and-desist letter to his house.
The now-retired Edgarton, who said he has so many books at his home that he and his wife need a rolling ladder to reach them all, established the Little Free Library.
“When it said to cease any activity, I could have just taken the books out and brought them inside, but instead, for effect, I put a padlock around it,” Edgarton said.
Other Shreveport residents have set up similar libraries in front of their homes, but MPC officials have singled out Edgarton.
“They said it was an anonymous caller who complained about it, and when somebody complains then the city is obligated to act on it,” Edgarton said, adding he and his wife were incredulous when they received the letter.
“We’ve gotten signatures from every house on this block saying they agree with the Little Free Library.”
Most of the books, around 30 in all, are mysteries, romance novels, children’s literature and even one Bible, Edgarton said.
Residents of his Highlands neighborhood — except, evidently, the one who complained — love the concept, Edgarton said.
The nearest parish library is a few miles away from Edgarton’s house.
Appealing the MPC’s decision would have cost him $500, Edgarton said.
MPC Executive Director Mark Sweeney told Louisiana Watchdog that Edgarton’s Little Free Library, while a nonprofit, isn’t permitted.
“Libraries are only allowed in our B-2 commercial zoning, but the key issue here, more than anything else, is that under our ordinance, where it talks about accessory buildings and structures, well, those can only be located in the backyard,” Sweeney said.
“They can’t be located in the side or front yard of a residence. That’s the key issue.”
The ordinance dates back to the 1950s, Sweeney said, adding that parish officials decided this week to temporarily suspend the rules on Edgarton’s structure.
Sweeney said parish officials are working to revise the ordinance, although he could make no guarantees.
“There is no city in Louisiana that has anything written on the books specifically addressing Little Free Libraries, so we’ve had to go outside the state to find ordinances in other locations, and that is what we’re studying and analyzing right now to serve as a model for Shreveport to consider,” Sweeney said.
The Little Free Library’s official website doesn’t appear to state how many such structures exist in the United States.
A map on the website, however, shows three in Shreveport and around 20 in Louisiana.
Contact Christopher Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org
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