PORT ALLEN — About 50 area residents made their final suggestions for West Baton Rouge Parish’s proposed “vision for its future” at a public meeting Tuesday evening.
The plan, called “planWEST 2020,” was announced in a well-attended public forum in October, and reviewed by about 100 residents in February.
It will now go to the parish Planning Department and Planning and Zoning Commission for fine-tuning, then on to the parish council.
Parish President Riley Berthelot Jr. said he hopes to have it finalized and approved by the end of the year.
“We’ve had a great deal of participation from all parts of the parish and we’ve heard some really good ideas,” Berthelot said. “The staff has really listened to the people and they’ve put a good plan together.”
Kevin Durbin, parish planning director, said the effort was paid for with $200,000 of federal and state hurricane assistance funds.
“We want people to know this is an open process and this is just a vision that goes on to the parish council,” Durbin said.
The plan is divided into five categories: economic development, land use and housing, natural systems and open space, transportation and mobility, and public facilities and infrastructure and what those areas might — and perhaps should — look like by the year 2020, said Ken Tipton, a Baton Rouge architect.
“This is a vision, a blueprint of the peoples’ vision — a consensus,” Tipton said. “This is a way to ask, ‘Who do we want to become?’ ”
The goal of economic development, said planner Fred Merrill, of Sasaki Associates, is to “keep our children here,” by providing jobs and expanding the tax base through more retail areas.
Land use would be concentrated in “villages” where stores, schools and churches would be within walking distance, while the agricultural landscape would remain open space, according to the proposal.
Cletus Langlois, of Patin Engineers and Surveyors, said a West Bank Expressway from Port Allen to New Orleans could improve drainage and free up land along the river, especially if the railroad is moved further inland.
Bike and pedestrian paths would replace the rail line, and the river levee could become a bike trail as well, according to the plan.
The meeting broke into 10 tables where participants discussed the details.
Port Allen residents Brandon and Angelle Brown liked the plan, but he was concerned about the “village” concept, in which businesses would be concentrated in residential areas.
“Like downtown Baton Rouge, there are clubs near residential areas — I don’t want to live that close to a club,” he said.
“I’m concerned with over-development,” added Angelle Brown. “I grew up in Baton Rouge, and I came here to get away from all the development. I don’t want to find myself trying to get away from West Baton Rouge Parish.”
Chuck and Phillipa Blair wanted to know how quickly the plan could be adopted because “we think we need it now,” she said.
Chuck Blair added that he liked the village concept because the way life is now, “everybody has to get in the car — we need a sense of community where kids can ride their bikes to the ballpark.”
Landess Hebert, a Brusly town council member, said he was encouraged by the plan, especially the transportation portion that calls for a new La. 415 bridge over the Intracoastal Canal, and the possibility of moving the railroad.
“I think it will happen,” he said. “It may take awhile, but it will happen.”
Eric Poché lives in Gonzales and came to the meeting to compare West Baton Rouge Parish residents’ reactions to the plan to that of Ascension Parish residents to their plan, many of whom, Poché said, did not like their plan.
“These folks are starting early enough they can get this done before the population explodes like it did in Ascension Parish,” Poché said. “If they do this right, especially with the infrastructure, they will be able to manage it.”