Lafayette Planning  & Zoning Commission is on track to confront "non-planning"

IT'S A NEW DAY?

On May 15th, the Lafayette Planning & Zoning Commission will entertain an agenda item addressing a request for preliminary plat approval of a new development which could result in the privately owned construction of a student apartment facility to house ULL students.

Ordinarily, this would be a no-brainer for the Laf. Planning Commission.  But because this application is the first development project to be scrutinized under new criteria, the outcome is currently undeterminable.

Two years ago the planning commission voted to adapt the concept of utilizing neighborhood residents as both a catalyst and resource focused on making neighborhoods conducive and compatible for all neighborhood inhabitants.  What is unique about this concept is that the people who live in a neighborhood get to decide how they want their neighborhood to look and develop. Neighbors get to establish a design framework for development, ensuring future compatibility with what already exist.  This is a cooperative negotiating process involving both residential and commercial inhabitants.  What could be more democratic?

Well, the application for the construction of the apartment facility on the commission's  May 15th agenda requires the commission to examine the "neighborhood will of the people plan" versus the LCG rigid subdivision and zoning regulations (Ordinance) addressing development requirements and compliance rules.

Complicating this issue is the fact that the neighborhoods involved, Freetown and Port Rico are recognized  as  Historical sites.  An effort is currently underway to have Freetown designated as a national historic neighborhood.  With this move afoot, residents of the neighborhood object to the proposed student housing because it bears no relationship to the historical significance of the neighborhood and would stand out like a sore thumb.  Additionally, residents say this development does not conform to the land use plan developed by their neighborhood residents.  Residents are not opposed to apartment housing in the neighborhood but feel strongly that student apartment housing is out of place.

Additionally complicating the matter is the commission's development staff's recommendation for approval of the development based on the parish governing ordinances, while the commission's planning staff supports the promoting of neighborhood defined development as already approved by the commission.  The commission's support for neighborhood defined development is one process advocated in the development of our Parish Comprehensive Plan.

There are some who would say follow the governing ordinances, while others advocate following the comprehensive plan process of supporting neighborhood groups active participation in government through the pursuit of neighborhood residents interests.

This and similar issues regarding the planned growth of Lafayette are on the planning commission's horizon with undoubtedly involvement of the LCG Council and the LCG Administration.

It is common knowledge that "Smart Growth" is the new buzz word (jargon) in Lafayette regarding planned development.   This designation in simplistic terms inherently implies a "change".  Smart Growth is not a "one plan fits all" type of solution for developing communities.  Instead, it is a unique, defined solution based on the character of each neighborhood and designed to create functional neighborhoods capable of sustaining basic neighborhood community comfort and needs.

Just how "Smart Growth" will figure into the commission's decision regarding the student housing development is anybody's guess!  What ever the outcome, this matter is likely to end up before the parish council on appeal.  If so, the council will have to decide not only the fate of the student housing development but its position regarding Smart Growth and the participation of neighborhood residents in the planning of their neighborhoods.

Fred Prejean

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