The revamp of East Baton Rouge Parish’s comprehensive plan was approved unanimously Monday night by the city-parish Planning and Zoning Commission, but not before the lead consultant told commissioners the plan will include a recommendation to look into connecting the northern and southern parts of the parish with a commuter rail line.
Future BR, which will replace the Horizon Plan, was adopted by an 8-0 vote after a brief presentation by Portland, Ore.-based planning consultant John Fregonese, who has spearheaded the two-year process.
The plan, which does not yet include the monitoring and implementation portions — not to mention funding — will go before the Metro Council on Sept. 22.
The vote was preceded by a handful of positive testimonials from local civic associations and planning groups, though two speakers praised the plan but said Southern University and the Metro Airport should be connected to the high-speed rail line the plan recommends between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Deron Brown, a planner with St. Martin, Brown & Associates, asked why the rail recommendations could not include north Baton Rouge.
The point was echoed by Commissioner James Gilmore, who said that was the only concern he was contacted by the public about.
“We need to make sure those in north Baton Rouge are not disconnected from the rest of the city,” he said.
Fregonese said the recommendation of a rail connection between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is high-speed and would not be the same as anything that could run through Baton Rouge,
Fregonese said a recommendation to study a commuter rail line, which moves slower and includes more stops, connecting Southern and the Metro Airport with the New Orleans-Baton Rouge line, has been added to the plan.
The plan, which focuses on land use; urban design; neighborhood revitalization; transit and transportation; parks and recreation; environment and conservation; housing; infrastructure; and economic development, was lauded Monday night by the Center for Planning Excellence, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, the Baton Rouge Growth Coalition and the Southside Civic Association.
Planning Director Troy Bunch said the effort, which included dozens of workshops and presentations, has produced a plan that would protect neighborhoods and the environment, and promote redevelopment and economic growth.
Bunch said his office will work with council members to give them any information they need and that the plan is still open to revision right up until the vote.
Commissioner Kathleen Callaghan praised the plan for its emphasis on street connectivity.
“Anyone who’s been following the comments I’ve made on the Planning Commission knows that’s important to me,” she said.
She added, however, that if the plan is ultimately adopted by the Metro Council, the key to making Future BR more than just a plan lies in funding its recommendations in the years to come.
“I just hope this plan will get funded,” she said, noting it will be up to voters and elected officials to “pull together and do what’s right and make sure this plan gets funded.”
Fregonese said the plan’s monitoring and implementation components, which include benchmarks for measuring its success or failure and strategies for funding and implementing it, are almost complete and will be released in October. Those components do not need to be approved by the commission or council, he said.
Bunch said the Planning Commission will have to approve any land development regulations necessary to implement the plan, including amendments to the unified development code, on an ongoing basis.
Voting for the plan were commissioners Tara Wicker, Darius Bonton, Callaghan, Gilmore, Audrey Nabors Jackson, Laurie Marien, Martha Jane Tassin and Roxson Welch. Commissioner W.T. Winfield was not present.