The Metro Council’s decision to rezone property in south Baton Rouge because the proposed barge-cleaning facility wasn’t deemed compatible with surrounding property has some council members thinking about what else needs to be changed on the parish zoning map.
Some council members now want to take a closer look at all zoning along the river, others want to look at north Baton Rouge zoning, while still others think zoning on private property should be left alone.
“This was never private property; it has always been public property,” Councilman Buddy Amoroso said about the recent rezoning of the Port of Greater Baton Rouge property in south Baton Rouge. “I would never vote in favor of council action for private property.”
However, other council members saw the recent controversy of locating the proposed Tubal-Cain barge-cleaning facility near residential and recreational areas as a wake-up call to re-examine zoning to make sure it still reflects the parish vision for future development.
Councilman John Delgado, who called for the property rezoning to stop the barge-cleaning facility, said it’s time to address other property along the river.
South of the rezoned area near Farr Park, property along the river is zoned rural. However, the area where Farr Park Equestrian Center is located allows heavy industrial uses, and that needs to change, he said.
“They are going to seek a new zoning designation solely for parks,” Delgado said of BREC. He said the new designation would apply to all parks throughout the parish.
BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said she will meet with planning officials to come up with the park zoning designation to protect green spaces while allowing the parish parks commission flexibility to manage those spaces.
“We have 12 new community parks where we’ve made significant investments,” she said, adding that the change should help the parks and the neighborhoods where they’re located.
North of LSU along River Road, some properties allow heavy industrial use even though the sites have been used for single-family homes for decades.
Starting at West McKinley Street and heading north to just past Oklahoma Street, an existing heavy industrial zoning could create problems for homeowners if they need to do an expensive expansion or other work that requires a permit.
Frank Duke, planning director, said the homes were built in the 1970s, when single-family homes were allowed to be built in a heavy industrial zone, but that’s not the case anymore. That means if a house burned down, the owner couldn’t get a permit to rebuild the home because of the zoning classification.
These are areas that need to be rezoned to maintain the residential nature of the area. It would be up to the Metro Council to change zoning laws for the riverfront and adjoining property to reflect current conditions and future desired development.
The heavy industrial zoning continues north past the Interstate 10 bridge and along the river from North Boulevard to just past the State Capitol. The council, Delgado said, needs to take a look at this whole riverfront area.
“I have a vision of our riverfront of commercial and residential that draws people in, not scare them away,” he said. “It’s something we have to look at if we want to develop our riverfront as part of this city.
“This was the wake-up call that we needed to look at this,” Delgado said.
Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel said she will ask the planning department to give her a list of all the unoccupied heavy industrial zoned sites along Scenic Highway for the purpose of rezoning. She said changes will be difficult, but the area is heavily industrialized and could become more attractive to homeowners.
“You don’t hear city visionaries and developers making such statements as ‘We need more housing density in north Baton Rouge to promote walkability and affordable housing opportunities,’ ” she wrote in an email. “There is no thought to the over 5,000 plant workers with sizeable incomes that work in north Baton Rouge, if presented modern homes, retail shops and recreation, would also choose to live, work and play in north Baton Rouge.”
As for the proposed barge-cleaning facility in south Baton Rouge, the rezone may preclude it from locating on the Port of Greater Baton Rouge property, but the pending air permit is still under review by the state Department of Environmental Quality.
“Although the change in zoning does not automatically terminate the permit application, please be assured that DEQ will consider public comments and recent action by local government in its final permit decision,” wrote Jean Kelly, DEQ public information officer.
If the permit is granted, it likely would take court action to permit the company to use the property.
The operations manager for Tubal-Cain Marine Services didn’t return requests for comment, but port commissioners said no legal action is planned from the commission.
“As a board, I think we’re going to back down and see how it goes from here,” said Clint Seneca, commission president.
The lease with Tubal-Cain Marine Services is still in place and the port is working with the company to find a solution, which includes finding the company another location, he said.
Seneca said his main concern is that the Metro Council rezoned a property because it didn’t like a business.
“It changes the value of all property, depending on what the Metro Council wants to do with it,” Seneca said.
“What if the council doesn’t want a mall or certain store to open at a location; can they just rezone it?” he asked.
“I think it opens a lot of opportunities for the council in the future,” he said.