Baton Rouge leaders want the city and parish to be more walkable, but some worry that allowing new developments out of the obligation to build sidewalks threatens any progress.
The fight over issuing waivers for sidewalks and other requirements is about to hit the Metro Council.
Councilman Joel Boé wants for two small proposed subdivisions off Tiger Bend and Hoo Shoo Too roads to be able to move forward without sidewalks. The Metro Council likely will take up the issue next month, after Boé’s requests are introduced next week.
The City-Parish Planning Commission unanimously agreed this month that the waivers shouldn’t be granted.
The battle over sidewalks for a handful of homes illustrates the ongoing struggle of planning for Baton Rouge’s future.
Nancy Curry, president of the Federation of Greater Baton Rouge Civic Associations, explained her opposition to waivers to the commission.
“Once you give someone a waiver, then the next person who comes along wants a waiver,” she said. “Once you start, it escalates.”
Planning Commissioner Sarah Holiday James said the sidewalk waivers contradict FutureBR, the city-parish master plan that stresses the need for Baton Rouge to be more walkable.
“We have to at some point start thinking about the future,” she said. “We make decisions today that will impact 10, 15, 20 years from now.”
Baton Rouge will have a new planning director starting June 16. Frank Duke, the former city planner for Norfolk, Virginia, will lead the ongoing implementation of FutureBR. During his interviews, Duke didn’t specifically touch on these types of waivers and variances, but he did stress the need for the city to focus on how walkable it is.
Next week, the City-Parish Planning Commission staff will hold three events to update the public on FutureBR’s progress.
The Planning Commission will hold a workshop Wednesday with the Metro Council and John Fregonese, the Oregon-based planner who spearheaded FutureBR, to talk about the master plan.
Boé said he thinks sidewalks don’t make sense for the small subdivisions in his district that were denied waivers this month.
“There is not a single sidewalk in a 3- to 5-mile radius from them,” he said. “You’re putting in a sidewalk to nowhere.”
The issue is that Baton Rouge can only require developers to build sidewalks for new developments. Once something is complete, officials have no ability to retroactively require sidewalks be built. The only other option is for the city-parish to tackle the project alone, which can be costly and time consuming.
Curry said that’s why she believes every waiver is “making Baton Rouge less walkable” and she thinks there has been an “epidemic” of waiver requests.
“We will never accomplish a walkable city,” she said.
Developers for each of the subdivisions spoke to the Planning Commission.
Emily Chenevert plans to split a large property into two with a home on each.
She said she and her husband already are required to install culverts for a road into the subdivision — something the city wouldn’t otherwise do on its own. “If the land is not subdivided, the street will remain as is,” she said.
Meanwhile, Richard Brein said his three-lot subdivision will only have a limestone road, which would look odd with traditional sidewalks.
“This is going to be a rural setting, not a typical subdivision setting,” he said.
Boé said he knows the Planning Commission is skeptical of variances, but he believes these are instances for which waivers exist.
“In my mind, it would be absurd to put in a sidewalk when it serves no purpose,” he said. “It just makes no sense to me.”