The East Baton Rouge Planning Commission on Monday approved an office park on Jefferson Highway despite resistance from some Old Goodwood neighbors.
The offices will be on the north side of the road between Towne Center and the Runnels School Preschool. Developers plan to construct four buildings and said some of them would be moving into one space, while a law firm has already expressed interest in another office.
Some neighbors said they would like to see more amenities in their part of town. Mike Price remarked that Old Goodwood is thriving because new businesses have moved into the area over the years.
However, several members of the local property owners association worried that the process was not handled correctly. The four properties are zoned for neighborhood offices.
On Monday, the commission granted conditional use permits to allow developers to build larger buildings than are typically allowed in such an area, boosting the properties' maximum square footage from 2,500 square feet to 5,000 square feet. Three of the buildings are 4,800 square feet, while the last is 4,300, according to site plans. The four sites are all technically discreet properties, though once built, the offices will share a parking lot and driveway, Planning Director Frank Duke explained.
His staff signed off on the plan, but neighbors worried that approving the conditional use permit would set a precedent wherein builders would not have to follow the zoning rules as written. Those permits should be approved only if they're in the public's best interest.
"If you approve the CUP, you're letting the horse out of the barn," neighbor Dennis Vidrine warned.
Developer Nic Bernhard argued that builders and business tenants are part of the community, too.
"I'm not sure how this is not in the interest of the public," he said.
Commission chairman Jason Engen agreed and said the city-parish has to make allowances sometimes so they can give developers commercially-viable options.
He was also evidently swayed by Guy Oliver, another developer who competes with Bernhard's company for projects. Oliver came to Monday's meeting and praised his rival, saying he would build an upscale project on lots that have offices now, but can be improved.
Several neighbors said new commercial endeavors should be placed on the southern side of Jefferson Highway, across the street from the residential areas. Under questioning from commissioner and Metro Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, developers said they don't own property on that side of the road, and that moving the project is not an option for them.
Ultimately the matter passed with unanimous support, minus absent member April Hawthorne.