Future BR, the city-parish’s overhaul of its land use and development plan, will use a strategic plan and monitoring benchmarks to measure whether it is achieving its goals in the short and long term.
It will also recommend a cabinet-level committee from various city-parish entities to work through issues that might otherwise get bogged down in the bureaucracy.
And it might get a lift from a separate initiative now under way — one that is looking at restructuring the Department of Public Works.
A draft version of the final Future BR plan will be released Tuesday. The city-parish and lead planner Fregonese & Associates will also host three meetings to take in one last round of public input. Future BR will then go before the Planning Commission in August and the Metro Council in September.
John Carpenter, chief administrative officer to Mayor-President Kip Holden, said the strategic plan will lay out a series of recommendations for the mayor to begin to pursue. Funding various changes and initiatives will have to be part of the mayor’s future budget recommendations to the Metro Council.
Carpenter said progress will be reviewed at least every two years — possibly even every year — and the Planning Commission will serve as a monitoring agency as well.
One of the major changes will be creation of a cabinet-level “solutions team” to address issues brought to it by a particular department or agency, for example, the East Baton Rouge Recreation and Parks Commission, the Mayor’s Office, the Planning Commission, the Office of Community Development, the Department of Public Works or the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority.
“When we’ve got issues where there are potential problems, this group will try to coordinate and iron out those issues,” Carpenter said.
He said that disagreements among agencies on how to deal with a traffic or drainage issue, for example, will be better hashed out in such a setting.
Carpenter said the meetings likely would be held publicly as issues come up, although he noted the team hasn’t been formed yet.
Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District, said the solutions team will help new ideas avoid getting stymied by a bureaucratic system that isn’t accustomed to doing things differently.
Rhorer said it’s not impossible under the current system, but he pointed to two examples of how doing something different required support from the top. Those examples were making St. Louis and St. Ferdinand two-way streets and incorporating part of Lafayette Street into the design of The Shaw Center for the Arts.
Holden’s “going to allow his cabinet to work across those lines to implement this and that, to me, is really different,” agreed Boo Thomas, director of the Center for Planning Excellence.
“Communities are a lot more educated on good planning principles, and the planning commission has done yeoman’s work raising the bar,” said Scott Bardwell, executive director of the Baton Rouge Growth Coalition. “But the plan needs coordination. It needs coordination between DPW, the planning commission, DOTD, BREC, the library board … all down the list.”
Future BR will also be used to find ways to work with economic development resources — such as the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, the state and local universities — and create tax increment financing districts, low-interest loans, land banking and tax credits.
Rhorer said Future BR’s support of tax increment financing districts, which allow a development’s future sales tax revenue to be used to fund its construction, will be a significant development tool.
TIFs were and are being used for the downtown Hilton, the Hotel Indigo and River Park and have the potential to do much more, Rhorer said.
Future BR incorporates Plan Baton Rouge Phase II, which called for the expansion of downtown’s boundaries. The DDD is researching that now. Expanded boundaries could incorporate the industrial area north of downtown, which could be filled out into a thriving 100-acre industrial park, Rhorer said.
“That could be a huge employment base for people that live in the inner-city area,” he said.
As for what could happen to DPW, Carpenter said William Daniel, who has been acting director of DPW since Peter Newkirk retired earlier this year, is looking into all options.
“It could be that ultimately we find the structure of DPW is good, or we may find that it needs to be broken into two or three departments,” Carpenter said.
He pointed out Daniel was acting head of DPW when Holden took office and made some recommendations to make the department’s management less “vertical.” The recommendations were enacted in 2006.
“What we were looking for with William is we wanted to have somebody who could hit the ground running and we’re looking at whether there is anything that needs to be done with DPW, from reorganizing its structure to other efficiencies.”
Carpenter noted that the possible changes aren’t about eliminating positions so much as they are making it run more efficiently. He pointed out that Baton Rouge’s Public Works Department, which encompasses sewer, building construction, transportation and other functions, is broader than its counterparts in many other cities.
For example, with the upgrades to the sewer system nearing completion, it might make sense to break that department out, and the city-parish’s litter court could be combined with the blighted property section.
The departure of Newkirk and Daniel’s expertise make it the right time to consider changes, Carpenter said.
“It’s always a good thing to do when you’ve lost a longtime director … and we’re looking for ways of doing things better,” he said, “and doing better with less, which is the motto for all government right now.”
Bardwell, of the Good Growth Coalition, is also on the Planning Commission’s Zoning Advisory Council. It will work to make the principles laid out in Future BR part of the Unified Development Code.
Bardwell said what he’s heard so far about the plan has him optimistic, though he and other developers will have to see the details when the draft version of the plan is released this week.
“These types of conversations about planning generally speak of density, transportation infrastructure, forethought, which is all what developers need to make investments …,” Bardwell said. “But as far as actual regulations, we don’t know what they’re going to be yet.”