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The Advocate and The Times-Picayune prepare to do battle on another front—the Legislature—over the lucrative right to print legal notices.
The Metro Council is moving fast to help Rouzan, developer Tommy Spinosa's subdivision located off Perkins Road, have its status as a traditional neighborhood development restored. In late February, the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the development's zoning designation as a TND was invalid because Spinosa did not have ownership and control over all of the property within the boundaries of the TND—including a servitude—when it was it was zoned as such in 2008. Last month—at the request of the Metro Council—the city-parish Planning Commission amended the city's zoning code to remove the provision about ownership and control that proved troublesome for Rouzan. The Metro Council Zoning Committee will vote on that measure later this month. In the meantime, at its meeting tonight, the council will introduce a separate but related measure to allow Spinosa to reapply for TND zoning under the amended zoning code—even though the council has yet to approve the zoning code change and the Planning Commission has yet to approve the rezoning request. "The rezoning case will be heard by the Planning Commission on April 21," explains Interim Planning Director Ryan Holcomb. "The Metro Council is going to introduce it today so that—assuming it is passed by the Planning Commission April 21—it will be heard by the council on April 23." Councilman John Delgado, who represents the area where Rouzan is located, says it's important to fast-track the process since residential construction at Rouzan is already underway and could be derailed if the issues raised by the First Circuit are not resolved. But some are concerned the process is moving too fast. —Stephanie Riegel
The search for a new planning director in East Baton Rouge Parish has narrowed to three candidates after one of the four remaining finalists for the position—Carolyn Rutledge of Columbus, Ga.—withdrew her name from consideration. Last month, the Planning Commission's top pick for the job, Cincinnati Planning Director Charles Graves III, declined an offer before terms had even been negotiated and before background and reference checks had been completed. Graves did not publicly cite a reason for pulling his name from consideration. Neither did Rutledge, who informed Planning Commission Chairwoman Tara Wicker of her decision in a March 28 letter that was forwarded to other members of the Planning Commission. "Thank you and all members of the Planning Commission for selecting me to come back for a second interview," the letter from Rutledge reads. "After careful consideration I have decided to withdraw my name." At least one Planning Commission member, Greg DuCote, says he was surprised by Rutledge's decision. "I thought she seemed very interested," he says. "She seemed very experienced and gave a good initial interview." Interim Planning Director Ryan Holcomb says a second round of interviews has not yet been scheduled because background checks are not complete. —Stephanie Riegel
Baton Rouge is the most sprawling midsized metro area in America, according to a new study by good growth advocacy group Smart Growth America, which looks at how communities have developed and gives poor scores to those with high urban sprawl and low connectivity. What's more, the study ranks the Capital Region's sprawl at 216 out of 221 U.S. cities of all sizes—including major metro areas like Atlanta and Houston. "Sadly, this doesn't come as a surprise," says Boo Thomas, director of the Center for Planning Excellence. "Our master plan, FuturEBR, recognizes this … it really underscores the need for a first-class transit system." Smart growth advocates both locally and nationally promote compact and connected development patterns in communities for several economic, environmental and quality-of-life reasons. As the "Measuring Sprawl 2014" report by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Smart Growth America, released today, puts it: "The researchers found that as Sprawl Index scores improved—that is, as areas became less sprawling—several quality of life factors improved with them." People who live in compact, connected metro areas have greater economic opportunity, the report says, as well as better transportation options and lower average spending on housing and transportation, and they lead healthier lives. There's also greater economic mobility in metro areas with low sprawl. "For example, the probability of an individual from the Baton Rouge, La., area (index score: 55.6) moving from the bottom income quintile to the top quintile is 7.2%. In the Madison, Wi., area (index score: 136.7) that probability is 10.2%," the study says. See the complete study. —Stephanie Riegel Read the full story.
Today's poll question: Do you think the level of urban sprawl in the Capital Region diminishes our quality of life?
A Baton Rouge-based group that includes former Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle will again go before a city agency in New Orleans today to pitch plans for redeveloping the Jazzland/Six Flags theme park in New Orleans East, which has been shuttered since Hurricane Katrina. The company, Paidia Entertainment, is owned by Tonya Pope, who describes herself as a theme park consultant and has tried unsuccessfully twice before to put together a deal to resurrect the park, which originally opened in the early 2000s. She asked Kyle, whom she knows through family connections, to join her team several years ago and says he will serve as CFO if she is successful in getting the bid to redevelop the park—which is not at all a certainty. Though Pope was the only bidder in February when she submitted a $50 million proposal to redevelop the site as a Louisiana-style theme park with a water park, studio back lot and retail space, her plan has since come under fire. Members of the New Orleans Industrial Development Board, a quasi-governmental agency that owns the 150-acre site, expressed concerns about her financial viability and lack of experience. "Frankly, we told her there are several things that we weren't comfortable with there," says Alan Phillipson, president of the IDB. "Specifically, we talked about the fact that she had no investment … no skin in the game." Pope says she has since addressed those concerns in writing to the board and will explain them at her follow-up presentation today. —Stephanie Riegel Read the full story.
With Tuesday's filing deadline looming in the Legislature, a diverse pair of local lawmakers has introduced legislation for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber that would put into practice BRAC's recently unveiled plan for restructuring the EBR school system. Reps. Steve Carter, a Republican, and Dalton Honoré, a Democrat, are co-sponsoring the bill, which would keep the EBR school district intact as a single financial entity but transfer broad decision-making power and authority to individual school principals. "Our focus has been to develop an education solution that is unifying to the whole community," says BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp. "Education is a key component of economic competitiveness, and we want an education solution that represents a dramatic change, one that improves school performance and that keeps the district together as a single financial entity." Supporters behind the measure have been meeting in recent weeks with a cross section of community leaders, as well as the legislative delegation and EBR schools Supt. Bernard Taylor to elicit their ideas and keep them up to speed with the plans. "We're trying to make sure everyone is on the same page," says Carter, who chairs the House Education Committee. "We're all working together to make sure the bill that is filed is in the best interest of the children of East Baton Rouge Parish." If enacted, the bill's changes would be transformative and would not happen overnight. Though the bill would go into effect Aug. 1, it would be three years before the transition was complete. The measure is also revenue neutral, though it changes who has decision-making authority over how education funds are spent. "The view of this is that the EBR School Board is responsible for creating a per pupil funding formula and distributing those revenues to principals," Knapp says. —Stephanie Riegel
For more than 25 years, civic leaders and elected officials in southeast Louisiana have been talking seriously about creating passenger rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Carol Thomas, Tiger Bucks