Jefferson Parish is turning its eyes to Metairie Road in its continuing attempt to develop areas with a more urban feel that will attract residents looking for something different from the standard suburban development in much of the parish.
Metairie Road, which meanders from near Causeway Boulevard to the Orleans Parish line, has a slower, more neighborhood atmosphere than the bustle of nearby Airline Highway.
That lower scale of activity provides the basis on which planners hope to encourage the kind of development that would create a Magazine Street-style atmosphere, parish Planning Director Terri Wilkinson said.
“It has good bones,” she said of the roadway.
The Parish Council is expected to approve funding for a study, to be conducted with the Regional Planning Commission, looking at what kind of regulations would spur a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.
The first step in that process already has taken place, with a rezoning earlier this month that moved properties along the western end of Metairie Road — about a half-mile stretch between Severn Avenue and Estes Street, including Causeway Boulevard — from high-intensity commercial to a more scaled-down category. The study aims to go further, looking at what planners can do to make sure redevelopment in that area is geared more toward people walking than driving.
Metairie Road has long been a pathway through the area. Falling along a natural ridge, the roadway follows the route of traditional Native American pathways through the area, Wilkinson said. The road also once was served by transit lines, she said.
“It reflects ‘new urbanism,’ but it’s an old roadway,” Wilkinson said.
The study is part of a larger effort by planners to highlight areas of Jefferson’s typically sprawling, suburban development that could be turned into more urban, walkable environments. That kind of redevelopment, known as “new urbanism,” has caught on in recent years and is viewed as a way of attracting both young professionals and older residents, groups seen as preferring pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods over the highways that dominate most of the parish’s development.
That’s particularly important as Jefferson faces competition for residents from both New Orleans, which draws those looking for the city life, and St. Tammany Parish, which has attracted many seeking a suburban lifestyle in recent years.
“Certainly in Jefferson Parish we look to those kinds of things, not only to provide services to our people but to remain competitive,” said Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng, whose district includes Metairie Road. “We want to be the place where people decide to have their first home and raise their family, because if you don’t have that, you’re in decline. If you don’t attract people here, you’re slipping.”
The first, and possibly most ambitious, of those plans focuses on Fat City. The parish has pushed a long-range effort to turn that area into an urban hub by imposing restrictions on the types of businesses allowed there, encouraging redevelopment, and planning infrastructure improvements and streetscaping.
By contrast, the plans for Metairie Road are more of a nudge in a “new urbanist” direction.
The plan likely will include regulations that require new buildings to be built close to the sidewalk rather than set back behind parking lots. It also could require review of development plans to make sure the buildings foster an urban feel and are inviting to window shoppers, diners and others, Wilkinson said.
The plan also could look at how to utilize bus transit in the area and how to tie in Metairie Road with the parish’s bicycle master plan.
There are practical reasons for such goals as well as aesthetic ones.
“At many times of the day, the traffic volume is at capacity (on Metairie Road). You want your future growth to be more pedestrian-oriented,” Lee-Sheng said.
The timing could be ripe for such a proposal. Many of the properties in the stretch of Metairie Road around Causeway are ready for redevelopment, and there have been rumors of interest from developers, Metairie Road Business Association President Steven Bel said.
A plan that encourages more businesses and customers in that area would help spur businesses all up and down the roadway, he said.
“When you go down there, you’ve got a lot of vacancies, a lot of vacant land,” said Bel, who owns Sal’s Snowballs. “Without stuff down there, there’s not a lot of reason for people to go down there.”
The study is expected to take about a year. Together with another study of Oakwood Shopping Center on the West Bank, it will cost the parish about $12,000. The Regional Planning Commission is expected to provide about $60,000 worth of services.
Once the study is completed, it is expected that changes will be gradual and will come as individual properties in the area are redeveloped.
“We’re dealing with a built environment, and change takes time,” Wilkinson said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.